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W. H. Auden 
Louis AIueNeiee 




LETTEttS 
WHOM ICELANM0 




Wuher nnd JFaher 

24 Russell Square 
London 


First published in July Mcmxxxvii 
by Faber and Faber Limited 
24 Russell Square London W.C. 1 
Printed in Great Britain by 
R, MacLehose and Company Limited 
The University Press Glasgow 
All rights reserved 



To 

GEORGE AUGUSTUS AUDEN 




Preface 



A travel book owes so little to the writers, and so nmch to 
the people they meet, that a full and fair acknowledgment 
on the part of the former is impossible. 

We must beg those hundreds of anonymous Icelanders, 
farmers, fishermen, busmen, children, etc., who arc the real 
authors of this book to accept collectively our gratitude. 
In particular we should like to thank The Icelandic Ship- 
ping Co., The Stat-Tourist Bureau, Mr. and Mrs. Erikur 
Benedictzson, Mr. Olafur Briem, Mr. Ragnar Jonasson, 
Professor Sigurdur Nordal and Professor Ami Pallsson of 
Reykjavik University, Dr. Jonas Ldrusson and Dr. Gislis- 
son of the Studentagardur, Mr. and Mrs. Kristian Andreirs- 
son, Mr. Stefan Stefansson, Mr. Snaebjorn Jonsson, Mr. and 
Mrs. Little, Mr. Atli Olafson, Mr. Halldor Laxness, Mr. 
Tomas Gudmundsson, Dr. Sorenson, Mr. Thorbjom Thbr- 
darson, Dr. Kristiansson of Sanddbokur, Mr. Bjarkans of 
Akureyri, Mr. Gerry PSllsson, our two guides Stengrimur 
and Ari (we never found out their other name), Mr. Joa- 
chimsson of Isafjordur, Mr. Gudmundur Hagalin, and Dr. 
Sveinsson and family, to whom we must also apologise for 
entirely destroying a bed. 

Lastly we must express our gratitude to Professor E, V, 
Gordon for invaluable introductions and advice, to Mr. 
Frazer Hoyland for three photographs and much else, and 
to Mr. Michael Yates for his company and the use of his 
diary. 


9 


W.H.A. 

L.M. 




Contents 


I. Letter to Lord Byron (W.H. A.), Parti pagen 


II. Journey to Iceland 25 

III. Louis MacNeice to Graham and Anne Shepard 31 

IV. For Tourists 36 

V. Letter to Lord Byron, Part II 49 

VI. Sheaves from Sagaland 60 

VII. W. H. Auden to R.H.S. Grossman, Esq. 91 

VIII. Letter to Lord Byron, Part III 99 

IX. W. H. Auden to E. M. Auden, No. 1 108 

X. Eclogue from Iceland'(L.M.) ■ 124 

XI. W. H. Auden to E. M. Auden, No. 2 136 

XII. Hetty to Nancy 156 

XIII. Letter to Lord Byron, Part IV 200 

XIV. W.H. Auden to Kristian Andreirsson, Esq. 213 

XV. W.H. Auden to William Coldstream, Esq. 220 

XVI. Letter to Lord Byron, Part V 232 

XVII. Auden and MacNeice: Their Last Will and 

Testament 236 

Epilogue (L.M.) 259 

Appendix 262 


11 




Illustrations 




Leaving Hraensnef frontispiece 

The lover of islands facing page 26 

Then let the good citizen here find natural marvels 26 

And the weak vow of fidelity is formed by the Cairn 27 

Photograph by permission of Jonas Liirusson 
The student of prose and conduct 32 

Fil'tccnth-century screen in Museum 33 

PhotographbyW.F.Hoyland 

An old farm 38 

A new school • 38 

The natural setting for the jealousies of a province 39 

Phtograph by permission of Jonas Ldrusson 
Grylla 39 

Photograph by W* F. Hoyland 

Caf6 North Pole 42 

Farm in the desert 42 

New communications 43 

New contacts 43 

HeadbyKjarval 64 

Mount Hekla from Odde 65 

The geysfps, as seen July 30, 1814 80 

The mountains of Iceland 81 

Reykjavik 1735 81 


13 



Illustrations 


The shuffling couples in their heavy hoots 

facing page 96 

Back to the hands, the feet, the faces 

96 

The accordion playing 

97 

Haymakers resting 

112 

Herring'gutting 

113 

Lake shore 

113 

Christian and Mr. Worldly Wiseman 

144 

The Arctic stare 

144 

Local swimming sports 

145 

Herring factory 

148 

Whaling station during the Itmch-hoiw 

148 

Flensing by steam-winch 

149 

The corpse 

149 

Stella’s hoot 

156 

Shoeing 

157 

Horses on lava 

157 

Head 

160 

Tail 

160 

Free hot water 

161 

With paucity that never was simplicity 

161 

Farmer 

214 

Haymaker 

214 

GermanischerTypus 

215 

Fisher girls 

215 

Snapped in the paddock 

218 

What the tourist does not see 

218 

Oddur 

219 

Yaldimar 

219 

The motorboat cost 40 kronur 

224 

Epic, the Drifters tradition 

224 

Louis 

225 

Michadi 

225 


Photograph by W. F. Hoyland 


14 



Illustrations 


Diagrams 

1. Relation ofhabitable to uninhabitable land page 262 

2. Kinds of habitable land 263 

3. livestock 264 

4* Distribution of population by occupation 265 

5. Graph shewing urbanisation 266 

6. Graph of exports and imports 267 

7. Foreign Trade 268 

A Map of Iceland at tlw end of the book 


15 





Chapter 1 

Letter to Lord Byron 

PART I 


Excuse, my lord, the liberty I take 

In thus addressing you. I know that you 
Will pay the price of authorship and make 
The allowances an author has to do. 

A poet’s fan-mail will be nothing new. 

And then a lord — Good Lord, you must be peppered. 
Like Gary Cooper, Coughlin, or Dick Sheppard, 

With notes from ^perfect strangers starting, ‘Sir, 

I liked your lyrics, but Chihk Harold’s trash’, 
‘My daughter writes, should I encourage her?’ 

Sometimes containing frank demands for cash. 
Sometimes sly hints at a platonic pash, 

And sometimes, though I think this rather crude. 
The correspondent’s photo in the rude. 

And as for manuscripts — ^by every post . . . 

I can’t improve on Pope’s shnU indignation. 
But hope that it wUl please his spiteful ghost 
To learn the use in culture’s propagation 
Of modern methods of communication; 

New roads, new rails, new contacts, as we know 
From documentaries by the G.P.O. 

17 


B 



Letter to Lord Byron 

For since the British Ishis went Protestant 
A church confession is too high for most. 

But still confession is a human want, 

So Englishmen must make theirs now by post 
And authors hear them over bn^akfast toast. 

For, failing them, there’s nothing but the wall 
Of public lavatories on wMch to scrawl. 

So if ostensibly I write to you 

To chat about your poiitry or mine, 

Thcre’re many other reasons; though it’s tme 
That I have, at the age of twenty-nine 
Just read Don Juan and I found it lino. 

I read it on the boat to Reykjavik 
Except when eating or asleep or sick. 

The fact is, I’m in Iceland all alone 

— MacKenisie’s prints are not unlike the scene — 
Ich hab’ ssu Haus, ein Gra, ein Gramophone. 

Les gosses anglais aiment beaucoup lea machines. 
ToKaAov. glubit. che . . . what this may mean 
I do not know, but rather like the sound 
Of foreign languages like Ezra Pound. , 

And home is miles away, and miles away 
No matter who, and I am quite alone 
And cannot understand what people say, 

But like a dog must guess it by the tone; 

At any language other than my own 
I’m no great shakes, and here I’ve found no tutor 
Nor sleeping lexicon to make me cuter. 

The thought of writing came to me to-day 

(I like to give these facts of time and space); 

The bus was in the desert on its way 

From Mothrudalur to some other place; 

18 




Letter to Lord Byron 

The tears were streaming down my burning face; 
I’d caught a heavy cold in Afcureyri, 

And lunch was late and life looked very dreary. 

Professor Housman was I think the first 
To say in print how very stimulating 
The little ills by which mankind is cursed. 

The colds, the aches, the pains are to creating; 
Indeed one hardly goes too far in stating 
That many a flawless lyric may be due 
Not to a lover’s broken heart, but ’flu. 

But still a proper explanation’s lacking; 

Why write to you? I see I must begin 
Right at the start when I was at my packing. 

The extra pair of socks, the airtight tin 
Of China tea, the anti-fly were in; 

I asked myself what sort of books I’d read 
In Iceland, if I ever felt the need. 

I can’t read Jefferies on the Wiltshire Downs, 

Nor browse on limericks in a smoking-room; 

Who would try Trollope in cathedral towns. 

Or Marie Stopes inside his mother’s womb ? 
Perhaps you feel the same beyond the tomb. 

Do the celestial highbrows only care 

For works on Clydeside, Fascists, or Mayfair? 

In certain quarters I had heard a rumour 
(For all I know the rumour’s only silly) 

That Icelanders have little sense of humour. 

I knew the country was extremely hilly. 

The climate unreliable and chilly; 

So looking round for something light and easy 
I pounced on you as warm and civilis^. 

19 




Letter to Lord Byron 

There is one other author in my pack: 

For some time I debated which to write to. 

Which would least likely send my letter back? 

But I decided that I’d give a fright to 
J ane Austen if I wrote when I’d no right to. 

And share in her contempt the dreadful fates 
Of Crawford, Musgrave, and of Mr. Yates. 

Then she’s a novelist. I don’t know whether 
You will agree, but novel writing is 
A higher art than poetry altogether 
In my opinion, and success implies 
Both finer character and faculties- 
Perhaps that’s why real novels are as rare 
As winter thunder or a polar bear. 

The average poet by comparison 

Is unobservant, immature, and lazy. 

You must admit, when aU is said and done, 

His sense of other people’s very hazy, 

His moral judgments arc too often crazy, 

A slick and easy generalisation 
Appeals too well to his imagination. 

I must remember, though, that you were dead 

Before the four great Russians lived, who brought 
The art of novel writing to a head; 

The help of Boots had not been sought. 

But now the art for which Jane Austen fought, 
Under the right persuasion bravely warms 
And is the most prodigious of the forms. 

She was not an rmshockable blue-stocking; 

If shades remain tihe characters they were, 

No doubt she still considers you as shoeing. 

20 




Letter to Lord Byron 

But tell Jane Austen, that is, if you dare. 

How much her novels are beloved down here. 
She wrote them for posterity, she said; 

’Twas rash, hut by posterity she’s read. 

You could not shock her more than she shocks me; 

Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass. 

It makes me most uncomfortable to see 

An English spinster of the middle-class 
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’. 

Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety 
The economic basis of society. 

So it is you who is to get this letter. 

The experiment may not be a success. 

There’re many others who could do it better. 

But I shall not enjoy myself the less. 

Shaw of the Air Force said that happiness 
Comes in absorption: he was right, I know it; 

Even in scribbling to a long-dead poet. 

Every exciting letter has enclosures, 

And so shall this — a bunch of photographs. 
Some out of focus, some with wrong exposures. 

Press cuttings, gossip, maps, statistics, graphs; 
I don’t intend to do the thing by halves. 

I’m going to be very up to date indeed. 

It is a collage that you’re going to read. 

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in. 

And talk on any subject that I choose, 

From natural scenery to men and women, 

Myself, the arts, the European news: 

And since she’s on a holiday, my Muse 
Is out to please, find everything delightful 
And only now and then be mildly spiteful. 

21 



Letter to Lord Byron 

Ottava Rima wotild, I know, be proper, 

The proper instrument on which to pay 
My compliments, but I should come a cropp<^r; 
Rhyme-royal’s diflictxlt enough to play. 

But if no classics as in Chaucer’s day, 

At least my modem pieces shall be cheery 
Like English bishops on the Quantum Theory, 

Light verse, poor girl, is under a sad weather; 

Except by Milne and persons of that kind 
She’s treated as d^mod^ altogether. 

It’s strange and very unjust to my mind 
Her brief appearances should be confined, 
Apart from Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, 

To the more bourgeois periodicals. 

‘The fascination of what’s difficult,’ 

The wish to do what one’s not done before, 
Is, I hope, proper to Quicunque Vult, 

The proper card to show at Heaven’s door, 
‘Gerettet’ not ‘Gerichtet’ be the I>aw, 

Et cetera, et cetera. 0 curse. 

That is the flattest line in English verse. 

Parnassus after all is not a mountain, 

Reserved for A.l, climbers such as you; 

It’s got a park, it’s got a public fountain. 

The most I ask is leave to share a pew 
With Bradford or with Cottam, that will do: 
To pasture my few silly sheep with Dyer 
And picnic on the lower slopes with Prior. 

A publisher’s an author’s greatest friend, 

A generous uncle, or he ought to be. 

(I’m sure we hope it pays him in the end.) 

22 



Letter to Lord Byron 

I love my publishers and they love me, 

At least they paid a very handsome fee 
To send me here. I’ve never heard a grouse 
Either from Russell Square or Random House. 

But now I’ve got imcomfortable suspicions, 

I’m going to put their patience out of joint. 
Though it’s in keeping with the best traditions 
For Travel Books to wander from the point 
(There is no other rhyme except anoint), 

They well may charge me with — I’ve no defences — 
Obtaining money under false pretences. 

I know I’ve not the least chance of survival 
Beside the major travellers of the day. 

I am no Lawrence who, on his arrival. 

Sat down and typed out all he had to say; 

I am not even Ernest Hemingway. 

I shall not run to a two-bob edition. 

So just won’t enter for the competition. 

And even here the steps I flounder in 

Were wom'by most distinguished boots of old. 
Dasent and Morris and Lord Dufferin, 

Hooker and men of that heroic mould 
Welcome me icily into the fold; 

I’m not like Peter Fleming an Etonian, 

But, if I’m Judas, I’m an old Oxonian. 

The Haig Thomases are at Myvatn now, 

At Hvitavatn and at Vatnajokull 
Cambridge research goes on, I don’t know how: 

The shades of Asquith and of Auden Skiikull 
Turn in their coflins a three-quarter circle 
To see their son, upon whose help they rcHikoncd, 
Being as frivolous as Charles the Second. 

23 



Letter to Lord Byron 

So this, my opening chapter, has to stop 

With humbly begging everybody’s pardon. 
From Faber first in case the book’s a flop. 

Then from the critics lest they should be hard on 
The author when ho leads them up the garden. 
Last from the general public he must beg 
Permission now and then to pull their leg. 

END OP PAST T 


24 



Chapter II 
Journey to Iceland 

A letter to Christopher Isherivood, Esq. 




And the traveller hopes: ‘Let me be far from any 
Physician’; And the ports have names for the sea; 
The citdess, the corroding, the sorrow; 

And North means to all: ‘RejectI’ 


And the great plains are for ever where the cold fish is 
hunted, 

And everywhere; the light birds flicker and flaunt; 
Under the scolding flag the lover 
Of islands may see at last, 


Faintly, his limited hope; and ho nears the glitter 
Of glaciers, the sterile immature mountains intense 
In the abnormal day of this world, and a river’s 
Fan-like polyp of sand. 

Then let the good citizen here find natural marvels: 

The horse-shoe ravine, the issue of steam from a cleft 
In the rock, and rocks, and waterfalls brushing the 
Rocks, and among the rocks birds. 

And the student of prose and conduct, places to visit; 
The site of a church where a bishop was put in a bag, 

25 


Journey to Iceland 

The bath of a groat historian, the rock where 
An outlaw dreaded the dark. 

Reme m ber the doomed man thrown by his horse and 
crying; 

‘Beautiful is the hillside, I will not go’; 

The old woman confessing; ‘He that I loved the 
Best, to him I was worst’, 

For Europe is absent. This is an island and therefore 
Unreal. And the steadfast affections of its dead may be 
bought 

By those whose dreams accuse them of being 
Spitefully alive, and the pale 

From too much passion of kissing feci pure in its deserts. 
Can they? For the world is, and the present, and the lie. 
And the narrow bridge over the torrent. 

And the small farm under the crag 

Are the natural setting for the jealousies of a province; 

And the weak vow of fidelity is formed by the cairn; 

And within the indigenous figure on horseback 
On the bridle path down by the lake 

The blood moves also by crooked and furtive inches. 

Asks all your questions: ‘Where is the homage? When 
Shall justice be done? 0 who is against mo? 

Why am I always alone?’ 

Present then the world to the world with its mendicant 
shadow; 

Let the suits be flash, the Minister of Commerce insane; 
Let jazz be bestowed on the huts, and the beauty’s 
Set cosmopolitan smile. 

For our time has no favourite suburb; no local features 
Are those of the young for whom all wish to care; 

26 






And tJie weak Vow of FiMily is formed liy llie Cairn 


Journey to Iceland 


The promise is only a promise, the fabulous 
Country impartially far. 

Tears fall in all the rivers. Again the driver 
Pulls on his gloves and in a blinding snowstorm starts 
Upon his deadly journey; and again the writer 
* Runs howling to his art. 


Dear Christopher, 

Thank you for your letter. No, you were wrong. I did 
not write: ‘the poits have names for the sea’ but ‘the poets 
have names for the sea’. However, as so often before, the 
mistake seems better than the original idea, so I’ll leave it. 
Now, as to your questions: 

1. ‘I can’t quite picture your arrival. What was your 
impression of Reykjavik harbour? Is there any attempt to 
make the visitor feel that he is arriving at a capital city?’ 

Not much. There is nothing by the pier but warehouses 
and piles of agricultural implements under tarpaulin. Most 
of the town is built of corrugated iron. When we arrived, 
it was only half-past seven and we had to wait outside the 
harbour, because the Icelandic deckhands won’t get up 
early. The townn was hidden in low-lying noist, with the 
tops of the mountains showing above it. My first impres- 
sion of the town was Lutheran, drab and remote. The quay 
was crowded with loungers, passively interested, in caps. 
They seemed to have been there a long time. There were 
no screaming hawkers or touts. Even the children didn’t 
speak. 

2. ‘What does R. look like?’ 

There is no good building stone. The new suburban 
houses are built of concrete in sombre colours. The three 
chief buildings are the Roman Catholic church, the (un- 
finished) theatre and the students’ hostel, which looks like 

27 




Journey to Tceland 

waiting-rooms of an airport. There is a sports ground, with 
a rxmning-track and tennis courts, where th<i young men 
play most of the night. In the middle of the town there is 
a shallow artificial lake full of terns and wild duck. The 
town peters out into flat rusty-brown lava-fields, scattered 
shacks surrounded by wire-fencing, stockfish drying oigi 
washing-lines and a few white hens. Further down the 
coast, the lava is dotted with what look like huge laundry- 
baskets; these are really compact heaps of drying fish 
covered with tarpaulin. The weather changes with extra- 
ordinary rapidity: one moment the ruin blots out every- 
thing, the next, the sun is shining behind clouds, filling 
the air with an intense luminoixs light in which yoxi can see 
for miles, so that every detail of the cone-shaped moun- 
tains stands out needle-sharp against an orange sky. 
There is one peak which is always bright pink. 

3. ‘What do the Icelandic authors write about?’ 

Mainly about their own country, the emotional lives of 

the farmers and fishermen and their struggle with nature. 

4. ‘I suppose the originals of the fiction-characters are 
generally well-known?’ 

Yes, often. I sometimes heard comphimts; for example, 
that Halldor Laxness makes the farmers more tiuplcusaut 
than they really are. But, as far as I could gather, there 
are no laws of libol. 

5. ‘Isn’t the audience of the Icelandic novelist very 
small?’ 

Relatively to the size of the population, it is larger thsm 
in most countries. Most of the novels of any standing are 
translated into G-erman and the other Scandinavian lan- 
guages. 

6. ‘Can he make a living?’ 

The hest-known authors and painters receive support 
from the state, without any obligations as to output. 
People (in all cases, right wing) occasionally complained 

28 



Journey to Iceland 

to me that politics influenced the awards; but I couldn’t 
discover any authors of merit who had been neglected. 

7. ‘Tell me about the young Icelander, What does he 
think about? What are his ambitions?’ 

As a race, I don’t think the Icelanders are very ambi- 
tious. A few of the professional classes would like to get to 
Emrope; most would prefer to stay where they are and 
make a certain amount of money. Compared with most 
countries, there is Httle unemployment in Iceland. My 
general impression of the Icelander is that he is realistic, 
in a petit bourgeois sort of way, unromantic and imidealis- 
tic. Unlike the German, he shows no romantic longing for 
the south, and I can’t picture him in a uniform. The atti- 
tude to the sagas is like that of the average Englishman to 
Shakespeare; but I only found one man, a painter, who 
dared to say he thought they were ‘rather rough’. The 
difficulty of getting any job at all in many European 
countries tends to make the inhabitants irresponsible and 
therefore ready for fanatical patriotism; but the Icelander 
is seldom irresponsible, because irresponsibility in a farmer 
or fisherman would mean ruin. 

8. ‘What about the sex-life?’ 

Uninhibited. There is little stigma attached to illegiti- 
macy. Bastards are brought up on an equal footing with 
legitimate children of the family. Before communications 
became better, there was a good deal of in-breeding. A 
farmer was pointed out to me who had married his niece, 
by special permission of the King of Denmark. Homo- 
sexuality is said to he rare. There is a good deal of venereal 
disease in the coastal towns, which has lately begun to 
spread inland. I know nothing about birth-control pro- 
paganda: there seems to be no particular drive to increase 
the population of the island. Emigration to America, 
which was common at the beginning of the century, has 
now stopped. 


29 




Journey to Iceland 

9. ‘Is there a typical kind of Icelandic humour?’ 

They are very fond of satirical lampoons. As you would 
expect on a small island, most of the jokes are about pro- 
minent personalities and difficult to understand without 
inside knowledge. There is a weekly comic paper called the 
Spegelin, which is more like SimpUcissimus than like 
Punch. I saw no evidence of the kind of brutal practical 
joke practised in the sagas. 

10. ‘What feelings did your visit give yoii about life on 
small islands?’ 

If you have no partictilar intellectual interests or ambi- 
tions and are content with the company of your family 
and friends, then life on Iceland must be very pleasant, 
because the inhabitants are friendly, tolerant and sane. 
They are genuinely proud of their country and its history, 
but without the least trace of hysterical nationalism. I 
always found that they welcomed criticism. But I had the 
feeling, also, that for myself it was already too late. We arc 
all too deeply involved with Europe to be able, or oven to 
wish to escape. Though I am sure you would enjoy a visit 
as much as I did, I think that, in the long run, the Scandi- 
navian sanity would be too much for you, as it is for me. 
The truth is, we are both only really happy living among 
lunatics. 

W. 


30 




Chapter III 

Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard 


R^kjavik. 
August 16th, 1936. 

TC) Graham and Anna: from the Arctic Gate 
I send this letter to N.W. 8, 

Hoping that Town is not the usual mess, 

That Pauli is rid of worms, the new cook a success. 

I have got here, you see, without being sick 
On a boat of eight hundred tons to Reykjavik. 

Came second-class— no air but many men; 

Having seen the first-class crowd would do the same again. 
Food was good, mutton and bits of fishes, 

A smart line-up of Scandinavian dishes — 

Beet, cheese, ham, j am, smoked salmon, gaffalbitar, ^ 
Sweet cucumber, German sausage, and Rye-Vita. 

So I came here to the land the Romans missed. 

Left for the Irish saint and the Viking colonist. 

But what am I doing here? Qu’allais-je faire 
Among these volcanic rocks and this grey air? 

Why go north when Cyprus and Madeira 
De jure if not de facto are much nearer? 

The reason for hereness seems beyond conjecture, 

There are no trees or trains or architecture, 

Fruits and greens are insufficient for health 
And culture is limited by lack of wealth, 

31 



Letter to Graham and Anno Shepard 

The totirist sights have nothing like Stonehenge, 

The literature is all about revenge. 

And yet I like it if only because this nation 
Enjoys a scarcity of population 
And cannot rise to many bores or hacks 
Or paupers or poor men paying Super-Tax, 

Yet further, if you can stand it, I will sot forth 
The obscure but powerful ethics of Going North. 
Morris did it before, dropping the frills and fuss. 

Harps and arbours, Tristram and Theseus, 

For a land of rocks and sagas. And certain unknown 
Old Irish hermits, holy skin and bone, 

Camped on these crags in order to forget 
Their blue-black cows in the Kerry pastures wet. 
Those Latin-chattering margin-illuminating monks 
Fled here from home without kit-bags or trunks 
To mortify their flesh — ^but we must mortify 
Our blowsy intellects before wo die, 

Who feed our brains on backchat and self-pity 
And always need a noise, the radio or the city. 

Traffic and changing lights, crashing the amber, 
Always on the move and so do not remember 
The necessity of the silence of the islands. 

The glacier floating in the distance out of existence. 
The need to grip and grapple the adversary. 

Knuckle on stony knuckle, to dot and carry 
One and carry one and not give up the hunt 
Till we have pinned the Boyg down to a point. 

In England one forgets — ^in each performing troupe 
Forgets what one has lost, there is no room to stoop 
And look along the ground, one cannot see the ground 
For the feet of the crowd, and the lost is never found. 
I dropped something, I think, but I am not sure what 
And cannot say if it mattered much or not, 

So let us get on or we shall be late, for soon 

32 






Fifteenth -century Screen in 2ilus€um 


Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard 


The shops will close and the rush-hour be on. 

This is the fret that makes us cat-like stretch 
And then contract the fingers, gives the itch 
To open the French window into the rain, 

Walk out and never be seen at home again. 

But where to go? No oracle for us, 
iBible or Baedeker, can tell the terminus. 

The songs of jazz have told us of a moon country 
And we like to dream of a heat which is never sultry. 
Melons to eat, champagne to drink, and a lazy 
Music hour by hour depetalling the daisy. 

Then Medici manuscripts have told of places 
Where common sense was wedded to the graces, 

Doric temples and olive-trees and such. 

But broken marble no longer goes for much. 

And there are some who scorn this po4sie de departs 
And say ‘Escape by staying where you are; 

A man is what he thinks he is and can 

Find happiness within.’ How nice to be born a man. 

The tourist in space or time, emotion or sensation. 

Meets many guides but none have the proper orientation. 
We are not changing ground to escape from facts 
But rather to find them. This complex world exacts 
Hard work of simplifying; to get its focus 
You have to stand outside the crowd and caucus. 

This all sounds somewhat priggish. You and I 
Know very well the immediate reason why 
I am in Iceland. Three months ago or so 
Wystan said that he was planning to go 
To Iceland to write a book and wotild I come too; 

And I said yes, having nothing better to do. 

But all the same we never make any choice 
On such a merely mechanical stimulus. 

The match is not the cause of fire, so pause 

And look for the formal as well as the efl&cient cause. 

33 


c 



Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard 


Aristotle’s pedantic phraseology 

Serves better than common sense or hand to mouth psycho- 
logy. 

‘Iax£ T^]V 90criv’ — ‘found its nature’; the crude 

Embryo rummages every latitude 

Looking for itself, its nature, its final pattern. 

Till the fairy godmother’s wtind touches the slattern 
And turns her to a princess for a moment 
Beyond definition or professorial comment. 

We find our nature daily or try to find it. 

The old flame gutters, leaves red flames behind it. 

An interval of tuning and screwing and tlnm 
The symphony restarts, the creature lives again — 

Blake’s arabesques of fire; the subtle creature 
Swings on Ezekiel’s wheels, finding its nature. 

In short we must keep moving to keep pace 
Or else drop into Limbo, the dead place. 

I have come north, gaily running away 

From the grinding gears, the change from day to day. 

The creaks of the familiar room, the smile 
Of the cruel clock, the bills upon the file. 

The excess of books and cushions, the high Injcls 
That walk the street, the news, the newsboys’ yells. 

The flag-days and the cripple’s flapping sleeve, 

The ambushes of sex, the passion to retrieve 
Significance from the river of passing people, 

The attempt to climb the ever-climbing steeple 
And no one knows what is at the top of it, 

All is a raffle for caps which may not fit. 

But all take tickets, keep moving; still we may 
Move off from movement or change it for a day; 

Here is a different rhythm, the juggled balls 
Hang in the air— -the pause before the souffle falls. 

Here we can take a breath, sit back, admire 
Stills from the film of Ufe, the frozen fixe; 

34 



Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard 

Among these rocks can roll upon the tongue 
Morsels of thought, not jostled by the throng, 

Or morsels of un-thought, which is still better, 

(Thinking these days makes a suburban clatter). 

Here we can practise forgetfulness without 
A sense of guilt, fear of the tout and lout. 

And here — ^but Wystan has butted in again 
To say we must go out in the frightful rain 
To see a man about a horse and so 
I shall have to stop. For we soon intend to go 
Around the LangjokuU, a ten days’ ride, 

Gumboots and stockfish. Probably you’ll deride 
This sissy onslaught on the open spaces. 

I can see the joke myself; however the case is 
Not to be altered, but please remember us 
So high up here in this vertiginous 
Crow’s-nest of the earth. Perhaps you’ll let us know 
If anything happens in the world below? 

L. M, 


35 



ChapUir IV 
For Tourists 


Passports, Custom, etc. 

No passports arc roqtiirod for Iceland. There are duties 
on moat of the cuatomary articles hut the cuatoms <ixumi- 
nation on hoard is courteous and not vigorous. 

Currency 

Icelandic currency is reckoned in kronur and ore, 100 or© 
to the kronur. The ofltcial rate of exchange in Icelund in 
summer 1936 was 22.15 kr. to the pound. Ihit in Hull you 
could get 24.50. It is better therefore not to change money 
officially. Owing to the adverse trade, balance it is ex- 
tremely difficult for individual Icelanders to get English 
currency, and English people who have friends or acquain- 
tances in Iceland will be doing them a great service if they 
change their money with them. 

Travellers’ cheques can of course be used, hut in my ex- 
perience, it is wiser to take cash and change it as you want 
it, so that you are not landed at the end of your visit with 
a lot of Icelandic currency which is difficult to dispose of. 

Clothes ajid Equipment 

(1) The most essential article is a pair of stout pmboots, 
but with smooth soles or they get caught in the stirrups. 

36 



For Tourists 


Riding-boots will be ruined and will not keep you dry. At 
least two pairs of socks should be worn inside the gum- 
boots. A pair of walking shoes and a pair of slippers or 
gym-shoes will complete the foot-gear. 

(2) For riding, either riding-breeches or plus-fours let 
down to the ankle. 

(3) Oilskin trousers in one piece reaching to the waist. 

(4) A long oilskin coat coming down well below the 
knees. A cape is useless. 

(5) An oilskin sou’-wester as well as any other head-gear. 

(6) A pair of warm but flexible gloves. 

(7) As far as general clothing is concerned, the danger is 
of putting on too little rather than too much. On expedi- 
tions I always wore flaimel trousers and pyjamas imder my 
riding breeches, and two shirts and a golf-jacket and a coat 
under my oilskiu. (So W.H.A. I did not wear nearly as 
much as this. L. M.) 

(8) For expeditions into the interior, a tent, of course, is 
required. Make sure that your sleeping-bag is warm 
enough. It is wise perhaps to take a compass, but the 
mountains are sometimes magnetic and derange them. 
Air-tight tins for perishable food should be taken, and 
make siure that your stove is strong enough to stand up to 
the jolting it will get on a pack horse. Mine fell to pieces. 
In dry weather the lava dust can be very tiresome to the 
eyes, and it is a good thing to take a pair of tinted glasses. 
Finally, whether camping or not, a roll of toilet paper is 
invaluable. 

(9) Everyone has their pet medicines, but from personal 
experience I would recommend cblorodyne as the best 
stuff to take in cases of internal disorder. Before I went, I 
heard a lot about mosquitoes, and went prepared. This is 
unnecessary. There are, I believe, mosquitoes at Myvatn, 
but elsewhere one need have no anxiety. In cases of emer- 
gency there are reliable doctors and dentists. 

37 



For Tourists 


Maps, etc. 

The best general map of tlni whole iHhmd is Daniel 
Bruun’s, which gives all rosnls and footpaths uml also 
camping sites. The whole island is b(jiiig mapped in 8 sheets 
on a scale of a little over four miles to tin*, inch. So far four 
sheets have appeared: Sottth-We.sr., ]Vli<l-West, North- 
West, and Mid-North. Tluue are also sp<H;i(d lurg<!r“scale 
sheets of special areas, like Thingvellir tmd My vatu. All the, 
inhabited part of the island is to b<! <lone on a scale of 
1-100,000 but only some have app<«ir<!d. All tla;H<', maps 
can be bought in Reykjavik. Tin; Ixwt guide book is Iceland 
for Tourists by Stefan Stefansson. 

Boats to Iceland 

The Icelandic Steam Shipping Company run two boats, 
the GuUfoss and the Bruarfoss, from lauth, ami two, the 
Godafoss and the Dettifoss, from Hull. As far as the scseoml- 
class accommodation goes, it is better on the Hull bonis 
and best on the Dettifoss. Fare from Hull to anywhere in 
Iceland, £4 10s. plus 5 kr. a day for food. The bitt<!r is 
nothing to write home about but eatable, 'fhe voyag(?i 
should last 4^ days, but delays in starting and on the way 
are quite probable. In addition, of courst'., there are cruise 
boats like the Danish Primula, with hrst-iduHS nccotnino- 
dation only, which also call at the Faroes. Primula fare; 
£8, plus 8s. a day for food. An alternative route, fur those 
who like the sea, is to go to Bergen and take a Norwegian 
boat from there, either the Lyra which goes to the Faroes 
and Reykjavik, or the Nova which goes direct to Kskif jiir- 
dur and then slowly northward round the coast to Reyk- 
javik. During the season it is wise to book both the out- 
ward and the return journey some time beforehand as 
accommodation is limited. 

The Icelandic boats go on from Reykjavik west and north 
via Isaf jSrdur to Akureyxi and then back to Reykjavik. 

38 





For Tourists 


R^kjavik 

There is not much to be said for Reykjavik. The six 
hotels are The Borg, The Island, The Skjalbreid, the Vik, 
the Hekla, and the Studentagardur. The Borg is called a 
first-class hotel but is not the kind of thing you like if you 
Kke that kind of thing; stiU it is the only place where you 
can get a drink. As far as rooms, price, and general comfort 
go, unquestionably the best place to stay is the Studenta- 
gardur, though I think the food there could be better. 
Price 10 kr. a day inclusive (except for laundry) plus 10 % 
for service. Single meals (lunch or dinner) cost from 2.50 
kr. to 6 kr. There is a ca£6 in the Ausserstraeti where you 
can get decent cream cakes. The Borg has a jazz band and 
dancing every evening. There are two cinemas and two 
quite decent bookshops. Arrangements for expeditions, 
guides, horses, etc., are made through the Stat-Tourist 
bureau near the harbour, but you should certainly visit 
as well, Stefan Stefansson, c/o Landsbanki, who speaks ex- 
cellent English and is a mine of information. In the museum 
(open Wednesdays and Sundays) there is a remarkable 
painting on wood of the Last Supper which is worth seeing^ 
and there is a collection of Icelandic paintings in the Parlia- 
ment house. The Einar Jonsson museum is not for the 
fastidious. The only other sights are OUi Maggadon at 
the harbour, Oddur Sigurgeirsson anywhere, Kjarval the 
painter, and Ami P^Usson the professor of Icelandic 
history. 

Board and Lodging 

Nearly every farm will put you up, and though the stan- 
dard of comfort of course varies, they will aU do their best 
to make you comfortable. Prices from 4 to 6 kr. a day in- 
clusive. In the N.W. it is a little cheaper. At a farm in the 
Isafjdrdardjup, for example, I paid 10 kr. for three days 
including riding. Single meals (lunch and dinner), 2 kr. In 

39 



i<'or Totirhls 


the summer many of lh«i H<;hoolH in tiu; country arc turned 
into hotels, e.g. Laugarvalu, Roykholt, Ilolar, Hallorasta. 
dur. These arc generally eomfortahle with good food. 
Prices from 10 kr. a day at Laugarvatn, the (ileueaglcH of 
Iceland, to 5 kr. inclusive. At Laugarvatn and Heyhholt 
there are hot baths. There are also ijins at Thingvellir and 
Gcysir, and various other plaiies, which are inark<ul on the 
4 miles to the inch maps. In the int<'rior ther<i arc several 
saelihus or momitain Inits, whicli again vary greatly in 
size and standard. These and euinping sites are marked 
on Bruun’sj^map. With regard lt» th«! oliter towns iu'^sides 
Reykjavik, there are three hoUds in Akureyri, the nitawt 
of which is the Gullfoss. In Isafjurdur yon c,un slay at the 
Salvation Army Hostel. lilHewln^re iiiflteidty and discoin* 
fort is to he expectiul. 1 recommend any singh^ tonrist who 
finds himself in Seydisfjordur to go to the <dd women’s 
almshouses, where I was myself extr<imely eotnfi>rtahh^ 

Buses 

There are excellent bus services to aU parts of the isluml, 
except the North-West and the South-lOast, and the fares 
are very reasonable. There are, for extimple, four buses a 
week to Akureyri, a distance of about 300 kilonnares, tak- 
ing two days if you go by bus all the way, and one day if 
you take the motor ship Laxfoss to Borgarnes or Akrunes. 
Single fare 30 kr. It is wise to book stsuts a day or tw<» 
beforehand, and if staying on a bus route to telephone 
through to a previous stop. Whore there are no ofUciuI 
buses, there are often milk-cars which will take you very 
slowly but cheaply. Those who are car-sick will have, I’m 
afraid, a rough time, (The drivers are excellent.) 

Horses and Guides 

There are very few places in Iceland where it is pleasant 
to walk, and for long expeditions guides are absolutely 

40 



For Tourists 


necessary if you don’t want to lose your horses or get 
drowned in a river. Besides, the farmers won’t lend their 
horses without one. The price of a pony for a day varies 
j&rom 3 kr. to 6 kr. in the fashionable places. The best 
ponies come from Skargafjordur in the IJTorth. For long 
jpumeys with a large party the price works out something 
lifce this: 

Riding pony, 4 kr. per day — 1 kr. for riding saddle 5 kr. 
Pack pony, 3 kr. per day — 2 kr. for pack saddle 5 kr. 
Spare ponies, 3 kr. per day each 3 kr. 

1st Guide per day 15 kr. 

2nd Guide per day 10 kr. 

For a party of seven plus two guides we needed seventeen 
horses, nine riding, five pack, and three spare. 

I am told that some guides object to hobbling the horses 
at night. Ours hobbled them, but another party which did 
not take this precaution lost a whole day and one pony. 
On some expeditions fodder has to be carried. 

Language 

It is not to be ext)ected that all the farmers will speak 
English, but a great many do speak a little, and an English- 
speaking guide can always be found, if you want one. 
German is also useful. There is a phrase-book for those 
who find that kmd of thing any use, and for the conscien- 
tious there is Zoega’s English-Icelandic Dictionary (expen- 
sive and full of non-existent English words), and Snae- 
bjorn Jonsson’s Primer of Modern Icelandic. 

Food. 

In the larger hotels in Reykjavik you will of course get 
ordinary European food, but in the farms you will only 
get what there is, which is on the whole rather peculiar. 
Breakfast: (9.0 a.m.). If you stay in a farm this will be 

41 



For Tourists 


brought to you iu bed. Coffee, bread and cheese, and small 
cakes. Coffee, which is drunk all through the day — I must 
have drunk about 1,500 cups in three months — is generally 
good. There is white bread, brown bread, rock-hard but 
quite edible, and unleavened rye bread like cake. The 
ordinary cheese is like a strong Dutch and good. There is 
also a brown sweet cheese, like the Norwegian. I don’t like 
cakes so I never ate any, but other people say they arc 
good. 

Lunch and Dinner: (12 noon and 7 p.m.). If you are 
staying anywhere, lunch is the chief meal, but farmers are 
always willing to give you a chief meal at any time of the 
day or night that you care. (I once had supper at 11 p.m.) 

Soups: Many of these are sweet and very unfortunate. I 
remember three with particular horror, one of sweet milk 
and hard macaroni, one tasting of hot marzipan, and one 
of scented hair oil. (But there is a good sweet soup, rasp- 
berry coloured, made of bilberry. L. M.) 

Fish: Dried fish is a staple food iix Iceland. This should 
be shredded with the fingers and eaten with butter. It 
varies in toughness. The tougher kind tastes like toe-nails, 
and the softer kind like the skin off th5 soles of one’s feet. 

In districts where salmon are caught, or round the coast, 
you get excellent fish, the grilled salmon particularly. 

Meat: This is practically confined to mutton in various 
forms. The Danes have influenced Icelandic cooking, and 
to no advantage. Meat is liable to be served up in glutinous 
and half-cold lumps, covered with tasteless gravy. At the 
poorer farms you will only get Hdngikyrl, i.e. smoked 
mutton. This is comparatively harmless when cold as it 
only tastes like soot, but it would take a very hungry man 
indeed to eat it hot. 

V^etdbles: Apart fcom potatoes, these, in the earUer 
part of the summer axe conspicuous by their absence. 
Later, however, there axe radishes, turnips, carrots, and 

42 





For Tourists 


lettuce in sweet milk. Newish potatoes begin to appear 
about the end of August. Boiled potatoes are eaten with 
melted butter, but beware of the browned potatoes, as they 
are coated in sugar, another Danish barbarism. 

Fruit: None, except rhubarb and in the late summer 
excellent bilberries. 

Cold F ood: Following the Scandinavian custom, in the 
hotels, following the hot dish there are a number of dishes 
of cold meats and fishes eaten with bread and butter. Most- 
of these are good, particularly the pickled herring. Smoked 
salmon in my opinion is an overrated dish, but it is com- 
mon for those who appreciate it. 

Sweets: The standard sweet is skyr, a cross between 
Devonshire cream and a cream cheese, which is eaten with 
sugar and cream. It is very filling but most people like it 
very much. It is not advisable, however, to take coffee and 
skyr together just before riding, as it gives you diarrhoea. 

Tea: (4 p.m.). Coffee, cakes, and if you are lucky, pan- 
cakes with cream. These are wafer-thick and extremely 
good. Coffee and cake are also often brought you in the 
evening, about 10 p.m. Those who like tea or cocoa should 
bring it with them and supervise the making of it them- 
selves. 

Food for Expeditions 

Bread, butter, cheese and coffee are safe to buy in Ice- 
land. Those who can eat them will find the smoked mutton 
and dried fish travel well. There is also an excellent tinned 
and cooked mutton to be bought which is very useful. All 
chocolate or sweets should be bought in England. 

Drink 

Apart from coffee and milk and water, there is little to 
be said for the drink in Iceland, which is just recovering 
from Prohibition. In Keykjavik you can get drinks at the 

43 



For Tourisls 


Borg if you can pay lor them. A whinky aiul soda (Irish 
whisky is unohtainahlo) costs 2.2J> kr.; ami a glass of 
respectable sherry J.45 kr. There are also govennmiut 
shops in various places wh(ire you can Imy hotthis fur- 
tively over the counter. They c1oh< 5 at noon. A bottle of 
brown sherry cost rnc 9.50 kr. and a bottle of Hpanish 
brandy (the only brandy they had) 0.50 kr. The. beer is 
weak and nasty, and the h'.monade unspeakabl<!. 

• Illicit brandy can sonu^times be got, and is soimdimes 
insistently offered by friendly farmers, but it is deatlly. 

Oddities 

For the curious there ar<! two Icelandic foods which 
should certainly be tritwl. One is Hdkurl, which is half-dry, 
half-rotten shark. This is white inside with a prickly horn 
rind outside, as tough as an old boot. Owing to the stmdi it 
has to be eaten out of doors. It is shaved off with a knife 
and eaten with brandy. It tastes more like boot-polish 
than anything else I can think of. The other is Heyngi. 
This is tho tail of the whale, which is pickled in H<»ur milk 
for a year or so. If you intend to try it, do not visit a whal- 
ing station first. Incidentally, talking about pickling in 
BOUT milk, tho Icelanders also do this to she-eps’ udders, 
and tho result is surprisingly very nice. 

Tobacco 

There is a fairly wide range of choice both «>f cigarettes 
and pipe tobaccos in Reykjavik, but in tho country no- 
thing is obtainable but Commanders, an English cigarette 
which seems to be manufactured solely for export to Ice- 
land. 

Photography 

Agfa and Kodak films can be got in Reykjavik, and 
sometimes in other towns, but it is not worth risking 

44 




For Tourists 


getting them elsewhere. You can get films developed in 
Reykjavik, but if you are particular about the results it 
is better to bring them home. As a complete tyro, it is 
presumptuous of me to give advice, but from my experi- 
ence and that of others more competent than I, I think 
that in Iceland, even if you are using a meter, there is a 
tendency to over-expose. 

Where to go 

This of course depends on the individual. Those with 
special tastes like fishing, ornithology, or geology will 
know for themselves. Most tourists will presumably 
want to see Thingvellir and Geysir, but they should 
not miss Grylla, a small geyser in the South which 
spouts every two hours. The hearty will want to go to 
the interior, and a journey round the Langjokull is 
probably as good as any. Time from 7 to 9 days. Inclusive 
price for a largish party, a little over £12 a head. For the 
tough there is Vatnajokull or Askja. For those who like 
riding for its own sake, it is a little difficult to find large 
stretches of open flat country. Perhaps the delta of the 
Markaflot and the-Thorsd in the South is the best, 
though they may find difficulty in getting really good 
horses there. For those who want to stay quietly in one 
place there are a number of places. Personally I should 
reco mm end either Reykholt in the West or Egilsstadur or 
Hallorastadur in the East. 

If I had a forttught to spend myself I should go to the 
North-West, as I think it both the most beautiful and the 
least visited part of Iceland. You come to Isafjordur by 
the Icelandic boats from Reykjavik, and move about 
either by horses or motor-boat. Anyone who does think of 
going there should get in touch with the British Vice- 
consul at Isafjordur, Mr. Joachimsson, who is extremely 
kind and efficient. 


45 




For Tourists 


For Motorists 

Those who regard motoring as a convenient means of 
seeing places and not as an end in itself, and who like a 
holiday off the beaten track, might do worse than turn 
their attention towards Iceland. Thcrcs has been a great 
deal of road-building since the war and from the map at 
the end of this book it will be seen that most of the island, 
except the north-west peninstda, the tract of glacier 
rivers south-east of the Vatnajokull, and the desert in 
the centre, can be now reached by car, and indeed along 
most of the roads there arc already bus services. I travelled 
about largely by bus and am convinced that it is one of 
the best ways of seeing the country, though I should have 
preferred being able to stop when and where I liked, and 
the hire of private cars is very expensive. A road in Ice- 
land, of course, is not always what one knows in England 
by that name. The roads to Thingvellir and Laugarvatn, 
those in Borgafirth, and indeed most of the road from 
Borgames to Akureyri, are fairly good third-class English 
roads. 

The road from Husavik to Grimsstadur, on the other 
hand, consists of two ruts, along which the maximum speed 
is about 8 kilometres per hour, and the Thingvellir hill 
on the Thingvellir-Laugarvatn road is barely negotiable. 
Still cars do go along all these roads without mishap. I am 
told that they very rarely break a back-axle as they caimot 
go fast enough to do that, but that spare springs should 
always be carried. The commonest cars in Iceland are 
large American ones, mainly Chevrolets, but smaller- 
powered cars if strongly built are quite adequate, as the 
majority of the gradients, other than short dips over 
streams, are less than you would expect in a moimtainous 
coirntry. A high ground clearance is, however, essential. 
On the better roads the wheel tracks are sunk in loose grit, 
leaving a raised middle section for horses, and care is 

46 




For Tourists 


needed at higher speeds to avoid skidding. AH bridges and 
nearly all roads are single, and passing another car means 
stopping. 

The Icelanders are all sick in the buses, hut a driver told 
me he had never known an Englishman to he. Practically 
every farm will put tourists up, and, though of course the 
accommodation is often limited and primitive, the farmers 
make every effort to do their best for one. Cars can always 
be left without anxiety as to their safety or the safety o£ 
things left in them, so that it is perfectly possible to com- 
bine motoring expeditions with trips on horses to places 
where motors cannot go. I had no personal experiences of 
garages, but I am told that there are good ones in Reyk- 
javik and Akureyri. Elsewhere, of course, the driver must 
do his own repairs. It is unnecessary to carry spare petrol 
as the maximum distance between pumps is 58 kilometres, 
but running out of petrol means probably a long walk to 
the next station and a long ride back. The petrol is B.P. 
or Shell, price 32 ore per litre (about Is. 5d. a gallon). 

The Icelandic Shipping Company is prepared to ship 
cars from Hull or Leith. If there are five passengers, the 
fifth travels free. If there are four, there is no extra charge 
and so on. On arrival in Iceland, particulars about roads 
and regulations can be obtained from the Stat-Tourist 
bureau in Reykjavik, near the harbour. An international 
driving licence is sufficient, and there is no car tax. Out- 
side the towns there is no speed limit, but an average of 
30 kilometres an hour is about as much as one can gener- 
ally manage. Drive on the left. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

General Information 

Icelandic Year-Book, Iceland, 1930. 

Stefan Stefansson: Iceland for Tourists. 

47 




For Tourists 


Language 

Snaebjom Jonsson: A Primer of Modern Icelandic. 

Zoega: Ensh-Islenzk Ordabok; Islenzk-Ensh Ordahok. 

History and Literature 

Knut Gjerset: History of Iceland, 

W. P. Ker: Epic and Romance; The Dark Ages; Collected 
Essays, 

"Dame Philpot: Edda and Saga. 

W* G. Craigie: The Icelandic Sagas, 

Professor G, V. Gordon: An Introduction to Old Norse; 
Romance in Iceland, 

F. L, Lucas: Decline and Fall of the Romantic Tradition^ 
Travel 

See Bibliography to Chapter VI. 


48 



Chapter V 

Letter to Lord Byron 

PART II 


I’m writing this in pencil on my knee, 

U sing my other hand to stop me yawning, 

Upon a primitive, unsheltered quay 

In the small hours of a Wednesday morning. 

I cannot add the summer day is dawning; 

In Seythisf jordmr every schoolboy knows 
That daylight in the stunmer never goes. 

To get to sleep in latitudes called upper 
Is difficult at first for Englishmen. 

It’s like being sent to bed before your supper 
For playing darts with father’s foTmtain-pen, 

Or like returning after orgies, when 
Your breath’s like luggage and you realise 
You’ve been more confidential than was wise. 

I’ve done my duty, taken many notes 

Upon the almost total lack of greenery, 

The roads, the illegitimates, the goats; 

To use a rhyme of yours, there’s handsome scenery 
But little agricultural machinery; 

And with the help of Sunlight Soap the Geysir 
Affords to visitors le plus grand plaish. 



Letter to Lord Byron 


The North, though, never was your cup of tea; 

‘Moral’ you thought it so you kept away. 

And what I’m sure you’re wanting now from me 
Is news about the England of the day. 

What sort of things La Jeunesse do and say. 

Is Brighton stiU as proud of her pavilion. 

And is it safe for girls to travel pillion? 

I’ll clear my throat and take a Rover’s breath 
And skip a century of hope and sin — 

For far too much has happened since your death. 
Crying went out and the cold bath came in, 

With drains, bananas, bicycles, and tin. 

And Etttope saw from Ireland to Albania 
The Gothic revival and the Railway Mania. 

We’re entering now the Eotechnic Phase 

Thanks to the Grid and all those new alloys; 

That is, at least, what Lewis Mumford says. 

A world of Aertex tmderwear for boys. 

Huge plate-glass windows, walls absorbing noise, 
Where the smoke nuisance is utterly abated 
And all the furniture is chromium-plated. 

Well, you might think so if you went to Surrey 

And stayed for week-ends with the well to do, 
Your car too fast, too personal your worry 
To look too closely at the wheeling view. 

But in the north it simply isn’t true. 

To those who live in Warrington or Wigan, 

It’s not a white He, it’s a whacking big ’un. 

There on the old historic battlefield. 

The cold ferocity of hiunan wills. 

The scars of struggle are as yet unhealed; 

Slattern the tenements on sombre hills. 

And gaunt in valleys the square-windowed mills 

50 



Letter to Lord Byron 


That, since the Georgian house, in my conjecture 
Remain our finest native architecture. 

On economic, health, or moral groimds 
It hasn’t got the least excuse to show; 

No more than chamber pots or otter hounds: 

But let me say before it has to go. 

It’s the most lovely coimtry that I know; 

Clearer than ScafeU Pike, my heart has stamped on 
The view from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. 

Long, long ago, when I was only four. 

Going towards my grandmother, the line 
Passed through a coal-field. From the corridor 

I watched it pass with envy, thought ^How fine! 
Oh how I wish that situation mine.’ 

Tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery. 

That was, and still is, my ideal scenery. 

Hail to the New World! Hail to those who’ll love 
Its antiseptic objects, feel at home. 

Lovers will gaze at an electric stove, 

Another po6sie de depart come 
Centred round bus-stops or the aerodrome. 

But give me still, to stir imagination 
The chiaroscuro of the railway station. 

Preserve me from the Shape of Things to Be; 

The high-grade posters at the public meeting. 

The influence of Art on Industry, 

The cinemas with perfect taste in seating; 
Preserve me, above aU, from central heating. 

It may be D. H. Lawrence hocus-pocus, 

But I prefer a room that’s got a focus. 

But you want facts, not sighs. I’ll do my best 
To give a few; you can’t expect them all. 

51 




Letter to Lord Byron 

To start -witli, on the whole we’re better dressed; 

For chic the diflference to«day is small 
Of barmaid jfrom my lady at the Hall. 

It’s sad to spoil this democratic vision 
With millions suffering from malnutrition. 

Again, our age is highly educated; 

There is no lie our children cannot read, 

. And as MacDonald might so well have stated 
We’re growing up and up and up indeed. 
Advertisements can teach us all we need; 

And death is better, as the millions know. 

Than dandruff, night-starvation, or B.O. 

We’ve always had a penchant for field sports, 

But what do you think has grown up in our towns ? 
A passion for the open air and shorts; 

The sun is one of our emotive norms. 

Go down by chara’ to the Sussex Downs, 

Watch the manoeuvres of the week-end hikers 
Massed on parade with Kodaks or with Leicas. 

These movements signify our age-long rule 
Of insularity has lost its powers; 

The cult of salads and the swi mmin g pool 
Comes from a climate sunnier than ours. 

And lands which never heard of licensed hours. 

The south of England before veiy long 
Will look no different from the Gontinong. 

You lived and moved among the best society 
And so could introduce your hero to it 
Without the slightest tremor of anxiety; 

Because he was your hero and you knew it. 

He’d know instinctively what’s done, and do it. 
He’d find our day more difficult than yours 
For Industry has mixed the social drawers. 

52 



Letter to Lord Byron 


WeVe grown, you see, a lot more democratic. 

And Fortune’s ladder is for all to climb; 

Carnegie on this point was most emphatic, 

A humble grandfather is not a crime. 

At least, if father made enough in time I 
To-day, thank God, we’ve got no snobbish feeling 
Against the more efiBicient modes of stealing. 

The porter at the Carlton is my brother, 

He’ll wish me a good evening if I pay. 

For tips and men are equal to each other, 

I’m sure that Vogue would be the first to say 
Que le Beau Monde is socialist to-day; 

And many a bandit, not so gently bom 
Kills vermin every winter with the Quom. 

Adventurers, though, must take things as they find them 
And look for pickings where the pickings are. 

The drives of love and htmger are behind them. 

They can’t afford to be particular: 

And those who like good cooking and a car, 

A certain kind of costume or of face. 

Must seek them in a certain kind of place, 

Don Juan was a mixer and no doubt 

Would find this century as good as any 
For getting hostesses to ask him out. 

And mistresses that need not cost a penny. 

Indeed our ways to waste time are so many. 

Thanks to technology, a list of these 
Would make a longer book than Ulysses. 

Yes, in the smart set he would know his way 
By second nature with no tips from me. 

Tennis and Golf have come in since your day; 

But those who are as good at games as he 
Acquire the back-hand quite instinctively, 

53 



Letter to Lord Byron 


Take to the steel-shaft and hole out in one, 

Master the books of Ely Culbertson. 

I see his face in every magazine. 

‘Don Juan at lunch with one of Cochran’s ladies,’ 
‘Don Juan with his red setter May MacQueen.’ 

‘JDon Juan, who’s just been wintering in Cadiz, 
Caught at the wheel of his maroon Mercedes.’ 

. ‘Don Juan at Croydon Aerodrome,’ ‘Don Juan 
Snapped in the paddock with the Agha Khan,’ 

But if in highbrow circles he would sally 

It’s just as well to warn him there’s no stain on 
Picasso, aU-in-wrestling, or the Ballet. 

Sibelius is the man. To get a pain on 
Listening to Elgar is a sine qua non. 

A second-hand acquaintance of Pareto’s 
Ranks higher than an intimate of Plato’s. 

The vogue for Black Mass and the cult of devils 
Has sunk. The Good, the Beautiful, the True 
Still fluctuate about the lower levels. 

Joyces are firm and there there's nothing new. 
Eliots have hardened just a point or two. 
Hopkins are brisk, thanks to some recent boosts. 
There’s been some further weakening in Prousts. 

I’m saying this to tell you who’s the rage, 

And not to loose a sneer from my interior. 
Because there’s snobbery in every age, 

Because some names are loved by the superior, 
It does not follow they’re the least inferior: 

For all I know the Beatific Vision’s 
On view at all Surrealist Exhibitions. 

Now for the spirit of the people. Here 

I know I’m treading on more dangerous ground; 

54 



Letter to Lord Byron 

I know they’re many changes in the air. 

But know my data too slight to be sound. 

I know, too, I’m inviting the renowned 
Retort of all who love the Status Quo: 

^You can’t change human nature, don’t you know!’ 

We’ve still, it’s true, the same shape and appearance, 
We haven’t changed the way that hissing’s done; 
The average man still hates all interference, 

Is just as proud still of his new-born son: 

Still, like a hen, he likes his private nm, 

Scratches for seK-esteem, and slyly pecks 
A good deal in the neighbourhood of sex. 

But he’s another man in many ways: 

Ask the cartoonist first, for he knows best. 

Where is the John Bull of the good old days. 

The swaggering bully with the clumsy j est ? 

His meaty neck has long been laid to rest, 

His acres of self-confidence for sale; 

He passed away at Ypres and Passchendaele. 

Turn to the work of Disney or of Strube; 

There stands our hero in his threadbare seams; 
The bowler hat who straphangs in the tube. 

And kicks the tyrant only in his dreams. 

Trading on pathos, dreading all extremes; 

The Httle Mickey with the hidden grudge; 

Which is the better, I leave you to judge. 

Begot on Hire-Purchase by Insurance, 

Forms at his christening worshipped and adored; 
A season ticket schooled him in endurance, 

A tax collector and a waterboard 
Admonished him. In boyhood he was awed 
By a matric, and complex apparatuses 
Keep his heart conscious of Divine Afflatuses. 

55 




Letter to Lord Byron 

‘I am like you’, he says, ‘and you, and you, 

I love my life, I love the home-fires, have 
To keep them burning. Heroes never do. 

Heroes are sent by ogres to the grave. 

I may not be courageous, but I save. 

I am the one who somehow turns the comer, 

I may perhaps be fortunate Jack Homer. 

I am the ogre’s private secretary; 

I’ve felt his stature and his powers, learned 
To give his ogreship the raspberry 

Only when his gigantic back is tiimed. 

One day, who knows. I’ll do as I have yearned. 
The short man, all his fingers on the door. 

With repartee shall send him to the floor.’ 

One day, which day? 0 any other day. 

But not to-day. The ogre knows his man. 

To kill the ogre that would take away 

The fear in which his happy dreams began. 

And with his life he’ll guard dreams while he can. 
Those who would really kill his dream’s contentment 
He hates with real implacable resentment. 

He dreads the ogre, but he dreads yet more 

Those who conceivably might set him free. 

Those the cartoonist has no time to draw. 

Without his bondage he’d be aU at sea; 

The ogre need but shout ‘Security’, 

To make this man, so loveable, so nuld. 

As madly crael as a frightened child. 

Byron, thou should’st be living at this hour! 

What would you do, I wonder, if you were ? 
Britannia’s lost prestige and cash and power. 

Her middle classes show some wear and tear. 
We’ve learned to bomb each other from the air; 
56 



Letter to Lord Byron 


I can’t imagine what the Duke of Wellington 
Would say about the music of Duke Ellington, 

Suggestions have been made that the Teutonic 
Fuhrer-Prinzip would have appealed to you 
As being the true heir to the Byronic — 

In keeping with your social status too 
(It has its English converts, fit and few). 

That you would, hearing honest Oswald’s call, 

Be gleichgeschaltet in the Albert Hall. 

^Lord Byron at the head of his storm-troopers!’ 

Nothing, says science, is impossible: 

The Pope may quit to join the Oxford Groupers, 
Nuffield may leave one farthing in his Will, 
There may be someone who trusts Baldwin still. 
Someone may think that Empire wines are nice. 
There may be people who hear Tauber twice. 

You liked to be the centre of attention, 

The gay Prince Charming of the fairy story. 
Who tamed the Dragon by his intervention. 

In modern warfare though it’s just as gory. 
There isn’t any individual glory; 

The Prince must be anonymous, observant, 

A kind of lab-boy, or a civil servant. 

You never were an Isolationist; 

Injustice you had always hatred for. 

And we can hardly blame you, if you missed 
Injustice just outside your lordship’s door: 
Nearer than Greece were cotton and the poor. 
To-day you might have seen them, might indeed 
Have walked in the United Front with Gide, 

Against the ogre, dragon, what you will; 

His many shapes and names aU turn us pale, 

57 




Letter to Lord Byron 

For he’s immortal, and to-day he still 

Swinges the horror of his scaly tail. ' 

Sometimes he seems to sleep, but will not fail 
In every age to rear up to defend 
Each dying force of history to the end. 

Milton beheld him on the English throne. 

And Bunyan sitting in the Papal chair; 

The hermits fought him in their caves alone. 

At the first Empire he was also there. 

Dangling his Pax Romana in the air: 

He comes in dreams at puberty to man. 

To scare him back to childhood if he can. 

Banker or landlord, booking-clerk or Pope, 

Whenever he’s lost faith in choice and thought, 
When a man sees the futmre without hope. 
Whenever he endorses Hobbes’ report 
‘The life of man is nasty, brutish, short’, 

The dragon rises from his garden border 
And promises to set up law and order. 

He that in Athens murdered Socrates, 

And Plato then seduced, prepares to make 
A desolation and to call it peace 

To-day for dying magnates, for the sake 
Of generals who can scarcely keep awake, 

And for that doughy mass in great and small 
That doesn’t want to stir itself at all. 

Forgive me for inflictiag all this on you. 

For asking you to hold the baby for us; 

It’s easy to forget that where you’ve gone, you 
May only want to chat with Set and Horus, 
Bored to extinction with our earthly chorus: 
Perhaps it sounds to you like a trunk-call. 

Urgent, it seems, but quite inaudible. 

58 



Letter to Lord Byron 


Yet though the choice of what is to be done 
Remains with the alive, the rigid nation 
Is supple still within the breathing one; 

Its sentinels yet keep their sleepless station. 
And every man in every generation. 

Tossing in his dilemma on his bed. 

Cries to the shadows of the noble dead. 

We’re out at sea now, and I wish we weren’t; 

The sea is rough, I don’t care if it’s blue; 

I’d like to have a quick one, but I daren’t. 

And I must interrupt this screed to you. 

For I’ve some other little jobs to do; 

I must write home or mother will be vexed. 

So this must be continued in our next. 

END OF PART II 


59 




Chapter VI 

Sheaves from Sagaland 

An Anthology of Icelandic Travel addressed 
to John Betjeman, Esq. 



PART I.— THE COUNTRY 

Iceland is real 

Iceland is not a myth; it is a solid portion of the earth’s 
surface.’ — ^Pliny Miles. 

IFhere is Iceland? 

‘I made several observations with an excellent Paris 
Quadrant, and ascertained the elevation of the pole by 
means of a lunar eclipse which happened in December, 
1750. By a telescope accurately furnished with a micro- 
meter, I took the exact latitude of the island, and having 
determined it in a nicer manner than it ever was before, 
found that Iceland lies almost four degrees more to the 
east than it has hitherto been computed.’ — Horrebow. 

What does Iceland hoh like? 

‘The map of Iceland has been sometimes drawn by 
schoolboys as an eider duck, qpiacking with wide-opened 
beak.’ — Gollingwood. 

Impressions of a Viking 

‘To that place of fish may I never come in my old age.’ 
— ^Ketil Flatnose. 


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Sheaves from Sagaland 


Impressions of a Poet 

‘A gallows of slush.’ — Tenth Century Scald. 

Impressions of the Middle Ages 

^To speak of Iceland is little need; 

Save of stockfish.’ — Hakluyt. 

Impressions of an Archbishop 

*0n our arrival in Iceland we directly saw a prospect be- 
fore us which, though not pleasing, was uncommon and 
surprising, and our eyes, accustomed to behold the pleas- 
ing coasts of England, now saw nothing but the vestiges 
of the operation of a fire, Heaven knows how ancient.’ 
— an Trod. 

Iceland is German 

‘Fiir uns Island ist das Land.’ — An unknown Nazi. 
Concerning the Scenery 

‘Alone in Iceland you are alone indeed and the home- 
less, tmdisturbed wilderness gives something of its awful 
calm to the spirit. It was Hke listening to noble music, yet 
perplexed and diflSicult to foUow. If the Italian landscape 
is like Mozart; if in Switzerland the siiblimity and sweet- 
ness correspond in art to Beethoven; then we may take 
Iceland as the type of nature of the music of the modems 
— say Schumann at his oddest and wildest.’ — ^Miss Oswald. 

Concerning the Mountains 

‘This author says that the mountains are nothing but 
sand and stone.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning the uses of Volcanoes 

‘Surely were it possible for those thoughtless and in- 
sensible beings whose minds seem impervious to every 
finer feeling to be suddenly transported to this burning 
region and placed within view of the tremendous opera- 
tions of the vomiting pool, the sight could not but arouse 

61 




Sheaves from Sagaland 

them from their lethargic stupor, and by superinducing 
habits of serious reflection might be attended with the 
happiest consequences, both to themselves and all within 
the sphere of their influence.’ — Henderson. 

Concerning the Vegetation 

‘Nowhere a single tree appears which might afford shel- 
ter to friendship and innocence.’ — ^Van Trofl. 

Concerning the Climate 

‘Those who gave an account that it was so hot that they 
were obliged to go almost naked, had that day, I suppose, 
great quantities of fish to weigh out, and send aboard their 
respective ships.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning the Wild Life 

‘It is commonly reported that the noise and bellowing of 
these seahuUs and seacows makes the cows ashore run 
mad. But none here ever saw any of these supposed 
animals, or noticed the bad effects of their bellowing.’ 
—Ibid. 

Concerning the Insect Life 

‘McKenzie formd a cocciuella near the Geysir: and 
Madame Ida Pfeiffer secured two wild bees which she 
carried off in spirits of wine.’ — Burton. 

Concerning the Capital 

‘Reykjavik is, unquestionably, the worst place in which 
to spend the winter in Iceland. The tone of society is the 
lowest that can well be imagined. ... It not only presents 
a lamentable blank to the view of the religious observer, 
but is totally devoid of every source of intellectual grati- 
fication.’ — ^Henderson. 

The Immortal Bard proves that nothing escapes him 
‘Pish for thee, Iceland dog. Thou prick-eared cur of Ice- 
land.’ — Shakespeare: Henry IV. 

62 




S/ieapes from Sagaland 


PART II. THE NATIVES 

The Icelanders are human 

‘^They are not so robust and hardy that nothing can hurt 
them; for they are human beings and experience the sensa- 
tions common to mankind.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning their hair 

^The hair which belongs to the class Lissotriches, sub- 
division Euplokamo, seldom shows the darker shades of 
brown. The colour ranges from carroty red to turnip yel- 
low, from barley-sugar to the blond-cendre so expensive 
in the civilised markets. We find all the gradations of 
Parisian art here natural; the corn golden, the blonde frd- 
vide, the incandescent (carroty), the florescent or sulphur- 
hued, the beurre frais, the fulvastre or lion’s mane, and the 
rubide or mahogany, Raphael’s favourite tint.’ — Burton. 

Concerning their eyes 

‘A very characteristic feature of the race is the eye, dure 
and cold as a pebble — ^the mesmerist would despair at the 
first sight.’ — Ibid, 

Concerning their mouths 

‘The oral region is often coarse and unpleasant.’ — Ibid, 

Concerning their temperament 

‘The Icdander’s temperament is nervoso-lymphatic and 
at best nervoso-sanguineous.’ — Ibid. 

Concerning their appearance 

‘The Icelanders are of a good, honest disposition, but 
they are at the same time so serious and sullen that I 
hardly remember to have seen any of them laugh.’ — V an 
Trod. 

Concerning their character 

‘This poor but highly respectable people.’ — ^McKenzie. 

63 




Sheaves from Sagaland 

Concerning their sensibility 

‘The Icelanders in general are civil and 'vveU-disposed, 
but they are said not to feel strongly.’ — ^Barrow. 

No nonsense about the Icelanders 

‘Practical men in Iceland vigorously deny the existence 
of the Gulf Stream.’ — Burton. 

Disadvantages of the North Pole 

■ ‘It is possible the Icelanders are not now as barbarous 
as formerly though it may rationally be supposed that a 
nation living so near the North Pole may not be so re- 
fined and polished as some others, especially among the 
vulgar sort, for people of fashion ought to be exempted 
from this rule (less or more) in most places.’ — ^Tremarec. 

Concerning their courage 

‘They are far from being a dastardly race as some 
authors have represented them; for it is well-known that 
they made some figure in a military life, and have been 
raised to the command of a fortress.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning their morals 

‘ “Happy the nations of the moral North” wrote Byron 
some years since. Without imagining that they are worse 
than their neighbours I fancy it is very much like the ideal 
morality of the so-termed middle-classes, which has been 
of late so ruthlessly shattered by Sir CressweU Cresswell.’ 
— ^Forbes. 

Concerning their food 

‘It cannot afford any great pleasure to examine the 
manner in which the Icelanders prepare their food.’ — ^Van 
Troil. 

Concerning their butter 

‘Their butter looks very wdl and I could have ate it for 
the looks, if my nose did not tell me that it could jaot taste 

64 





Mount Hekla from Odde 


Sheaves from Sagaland 

well. Mr. Anderson says their butter looks green, black and 
of all colours/ — Horrebow. 

Concerning Hdkarl 

‘This had so disagreeable a taste that the small quantity 
we took of it drove us from the table long before our 
intention/ — Y an Troil, 

Eat more fish 

‘Ichthyophagy and idleness must do much to counter- 
balance the sun-clad power of chastity/ — Burton. 

Concerning their habits 

‘If I attempted to describe some of their nauseous 
habits, I might fill volumes/ — Pfeiffer. 

A young lady^s opinion 

‘The Icelanders have no idea of out-of-doors amenity/ 
— ^Miss Oswald. 

Concerning their dress 

‘The dress of the women is not calculated to show the 
person to advantage.’ — ^McKenzie. 

Concerning their baths 

‘The inhabitants do not bathe in them here merely for 
their health, but they are likewise the occasion for a scene 
of gallantry. Poverty prevents here the lover from making 
presents to his fair one, and Nature presents no flowers of 
which elsewhere garlands are made: ’tis therefore custo- 
mary that instead of all this the swain perfectly cleanses 
one of these baths which is afterwards honoured by the 
visit of his bride.’ — an Troil. 

Concerning their kissing 

‘I have sometimes fancied, when they took their faces 
apart, that I could hear a slight clicking sound; but this 
might be imagination.’ — Howell. 

E 65 


Sheaves from Sagaland 

Concerning their laundry 

‘They wash their things tolerably well, though I must 
suppose, not to the liking of all persons.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning their music 

T heard a voice in the farm singing an Icelandic song. 
At a distance it resembled the humming of bees.’ — Pfeiffer. 

Concerning their dancing 

' ‘They have no idea of dancing, though sometimes the 
merchants at the factories for their diversion will get a 
fiddle and make them dance, in which they succeed no 
better than by hopping and jumping about.’ — Horrebow. 

Concerning their sculpture 

‘Thorwaldson, the son of an Icelander, dwelling on the 
classic ground of Rome, is at the present moment second 
only to Canova among the statuaries of Europe.’ — 
McKenzie, 

Concerning their chessmen 

‘There is not a peasant in the country but what has a set, 
which they make out of fishbones. The whole difference 
betwixt theirs and ours being that our fools stand for their 
bishops because they say the clergyman ought to be near 
the King’s person. Their rooks represent little captains 
whom the Icelandic scholars call their Centuriones. They 
are represented with swords at their sides, with bloated 
cheeks, as if they were blowing the horns they hold in both 
their hands.’ — ^Tremarec. 

Good news for the Geography Mistress 

‘The search for this useful lichen forms the annual holi- 
day of Icelandic girlhood.’ — Howell. 

Bad news for the Watch Committee 

‘The Elder Edda may be searched through and through 
and there will not be found a single nude myth, not an 

66 




Sheaves from Sagaland 


impersonation of any kind that can he considered an out- 
rage upon virtue or a violation of the laws of propriety,’ 
— ^Anderson. 

Concerning their literary criticism 

*In all departments of literature, there is a strong dis- 
position among the Icelanders to critical severity. A 
curious instance of this kind occurred about a hundred 
years ago when an unfortunate man was publicly whipped 
as a punishment for the errors he had committed in a 
translation of the book of Genesis.’ — ^McKenzie. 

Concerning their lack of education 

‘It is not uncommon in Iceland for people of all ra nks , 
ages and sexes to sleep in the same apartment. Their no- 
tions of decency are unavoidably not very refined; but we 
had sufficient proof that the instances of this which we 
witnessed proceeded from ignorance, and expressed no- 
thing but perfect innocence.’ — Ibid. 

Concerning their high-grade living 

‘Publications connected with practical morality are very 
common in Iceland, and several excellent books of this kind 
have lately appeared in the island, adapted chiefly to the use 
of farmers or those of the middle-classes; in which moral 
instruction is judiciously blended with amusing informa- 
tion in various branches of knowledge. The most valuable 
of these writings is a work called Evening Hours. ^ — Ibid. 

Concerning their religion 

‘The influence of the Lutheran Church is practically 
universal, the Nonconformists of the island numbering 
probably but one or two of the Brethren, and a single 
Swedenborgian.’ — Howell. 

Plato in the North 

‘Some of the clergy of the new school, instead of drawing 
the matter of their sermons from the Scriptures, gather it 

67 



Sheaves from Sagaland 


from the "WTitings of heathen philosophers, and the mor- 
ality found in these authors, which at the best is but dry 
and insipid, absolutely freezes when transported to Ice- 
land.’ — Henderson. 

The Scarlet Woman in Iceland 
‘An American organ leads the singing, which is slow but 
none the less devotional, and thoroughly Gongregationad. 
A gaudy red and yellow robe which the pastor wears 
during a portion of the liturgy is evidently a survival of 
the Romanist days. His black gown and white ruflf are less 
obtrusive and more in keeping with a Christian service.’ 
— Howell. 

Concerning their behaviour in Church 

‘Most of the congregation sat with their faces turned 
towards the altar, but the rule had its exceptions.’ — 
Pfeiflfer. 

Concerning the literary taste of the Clergy 

‘Assessor Grondal also composed several poetical satires 
in which, according to the information of the Bishop, there 
is much successful ridictde.’ — ^McKenzie. 

Concerning the isolation of real Christians in Iceland 

‘The greater number of these individuals are, in all pro- 
bability, known only to God, having little intercourse with 
each other, and the situation may, not rmfttly, be com- 
pared to that of the generality of real Christians in Scot- 
land about thirty or forty years ago.’ — Henderson. 

A Problem for Missionaries 

‘A church was built in 984 by Thorvald Bodvarter and 
some persons received baptism, but others, though they 
had no objection to the Christian religion, could not be 
prevailed upon to suffer themselves to be baptised, as they 
pretended it would be indecent to go naked into the 
water, like little boys.’ — Y an Troil. 

68 



Sheaves from Sagaland 


A use for Icelandic women 

^As wives they would be efficient correctives to the fine 
drawn framework and the over-nervous diathesis of 
southern nations.’ — ^Burton. 

Tiddley om pom pom 

‘Die geistige Aufgeschlossenheit und rasche A ufn a h me- 
fahigkeit der Islandischen Frau hat in der Stadt in den 
letzen zehn Jahren einer Typus hervorgebracht, der die, 
Eleganz imd das kiinstliche Modespiel der Stadtischen 
Festlanderinnen noch zu uberbieten trachtet. Das aUes 
verfleucht jedoch wie ein diinner Spuk, wenn eine Islan- 
dische Frau einher schreitet in der Koniglichen Festtracht 
ihres Landes und in Gewand und Haltung einer einzigen 
solchen Gestalt Tausendjahriges Islandertum in seiner 
menschlichen Starke enthullt.’ — ^Prinz. 

The longest word in Icelandic 

Haestarjettarmalaflutunesmanskifstofastulkonutidyra- 
lykfll — a latch-key belonging to a girl working in the office 
of a barrister. 


PART III. — THE TOURIST 

Iceland is safe 

‘An eruption very seldom happens, and even when it 
does, it occupies but a small tract of time. Travellers can- 
not therefore be much obstructed by it.’ — ^Horrebow. 

Reassurance to Girl Guides 

‘What! says someone, can ladies travel in Iceland? Cer- 
tainly, as witness the expeditions of Miss Oswald and Miss 
Adelia Gates.’ — Howell. 

A warning 

‘To be well received here it is necessary either to be rich 
or else to travel as a naturalist.’ — Pfeiffer. 

69 




Sheaves from Sagaland 

Why go there? A reason 

‘Well, Rector, you are partly right. I do like getting out 
of the regions of respectability — pardon me — once in a 
way. Hard fare, too, for a time is a fine alternative. Persi- 
cos odi apparatus.’ — ^Metcalfe. 

Another reason 

‘The traveller enjoys for himself the most absolute im- 
.munity; he may he offered a seat in the Cabinet, or accused 
of forgery, or portrayed in Vanity Fair, — ^he wfil know no- 
thing about it till his return.’ — ^Viscotmt Bryce. 

The Voyage Out. A cautious simile 
‘Whales ahead — ^their spoky back fins revolving close 
after each other in regular succession like the wheel of the 
Great Eastern, if it has one.’ — ^Metcalfe. 

First sight of Iceland 

‘So I have seen Iceland at last. I awoke from a dream of 
the Grange, which, by the way, was like some house at 
Queen’s Gate.’ — ^WiUiam Morris. 

Ditto 

‘We were delighted at seeing some new faces, in spite of 
their nastiness and stench; and their grotesque appearance 
afforded us much amtusement.’ — Hooker. 

Character of a traveller 

‘Next I will introduce Mr. Darwin, a really celebrated 
personage. He had written a learned book on Northern 
Antiquities in recompense of which a Scandinavian poten- 
tate created him a Eodght of the second class of the Order 
of the Walrus, the riband of which illustrious Order was 
suspended across his brawny shoulders.’ — ^Umbra. 

Character of a light Hue 

*A man taking delight in museums and houses of assem- 
bly, given to chemistry and the variations of European 

70 




Sheaves from Sagaland 


politics, fond of statistics and well instructed in stuffed 
vermin.’ — ^Anthony Trollope. 

I was at B.N,C> 

Tt is very hard for a European, and perhaps especially 
hard for a graduate of one of the older EngUsh Universities 
to appreciate the squalid culture of these northern peoples.’ 
— Anuandale. 

A French humanitarian 

‘‘Que les agranomes et les membres du club des Jockeys 
vantent les belles races de merinos et les families pur sang 
de chevaux anglais. Pour moi dusse-je faire vivre ceux qm 
n’ait jamais compati aux souffrances des animaux, 
j’avouerai que, dans mes excursions en Islande, j’ai sou- 
vent presse entre mes mains, avec attendrissement, la tSte 
de mon cheval.’ — ^Marmier. 

An unfavourable comparison 

^The French author gives a life-like sketch of the differ- 
ence between the sailors who man these ships. The French- 
man, working for the owner, landing at times, listless, idle, 
with a pocket as lean as his poor cadaverous face, hope- 
less, miserable to a degree. The Yankee, paddling his own 
canoe, pocketing all the gains, dashing ashore in his 
civilian dress, and flinging his dollars everywhere, drink- 
ing, roystering, catching the ponies, and scampering off, 
frightening the Icelander out of his wits.’ — Howell. 

Mr.X. 

T discovered a curious fact about Mr. X. which ac- 
counted for that gentleman’s occasional readiness in mak- 
ing a quotation. Every night he wrapped himself in a large 
grey plaid of which he was very proud; it had been, he said, 
his companion in the moimtains of Mexico. I now hap- 
pened to examine some scarlet letters on the plaid and, to 
my amazement, discovered whole passages from Shake- 

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speare and other poets embroidered in red silk. In fact 
Mr. X. slept in a book and could always refresh his memory 
by studying when he woke.’ — Umbra. 

A poet's athletic feat 

‘Had that celebrated Pope whose Christian name was 
Alexander believed that his immortal essay would have 
been translated into Icelandic verse, by a native Icelander, 
he would not have vaulted clear over the volcanic isle.’ 
—Miles. 

Influence of the Gothic revival 

‘There was not one in our company who did not wish to 
have his clothes a little singed for the sake of seeing Hekla 
in a blaze.’ — Y an Troil. 

An inarticulate Wordsworthian 

‘I wish it were in my power. Sir, to give you such a de- 
scription of this place as it deserves, but I fear mine will 
always remain inferior in point of expression. So much is 
certain, at least. Nature never drew from anyone a more 
cheerful homage to her Great Creator than I here paid 
mm.:— Ibid. 

Trials of a geologist 

‘Some of the pieces I handed to Ami to carry, who took 
them very reluctantly; the bulk, however, were by degrees 
thrown away, each succeeding rest seeing one or more of 
the specimens abandoned which at the rest preceding I had 
determined to preserve; greatly to the amusement of H., 
who is not disposed to subject himself to the least incon- 
venience for the cause of science.’ — ^W. G. Locke. 

Tricds of an author 

‘For a few minutes they remained quiet; then they be- 
gan to whisper one to another, “She writes. She writes.” ’ 
— ^Pfeiffm. 


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Sheaves from Sagaland 

A fast Victorian 

^There was no alternative; I must either turn back or 
moimt as a man. Keeping my brother at my side, and bid- 
ding the rest ride forward, I made him shorten the stirrups 
and hold the saddle, and after sundry attempts succeeded 
in landing myself man fashion on the animal’s back. The 
position felt very odd at first, and I was also somewhat un- 
comfortable at my attitude, but on Vaughan’s assuring 
me there was no cause for my imeasiness, and arranging 
my dress so that it fell in folds on either side, I decided to 
give the experiment a fair trial. Perhaps my boldness may 
rather surprise my readers.’ — ^Mrs. Alice Tweedie. 

Acumen of a religious observer 

‘Having gained some knowledge of the Icelandic before- 
hand, I could easily collect the scope and substance of his 
discourse, and, from its general tenor, do not hesitate to 
pronounce it strictly Evangelical.’ — Henderson. 

Inability of a Bishop to draw the line 

‘Here we saw the bishop himself countenancing vice in 
its worst shape, and appearing perfectly familiar with per- 
sons who, he must have known, bore the worst characters.’ 
— ^McKenzie. 

Privations of a traveller 

‘As long as I remained in Iceland I was compelled to 
give up my German system of diet.’ — ^Pfeiffer. 

An exchange of courtesies 

‘I plucked a flower, and speedily they brought a bunch. 
I touched a stone and half a dozen were at once forth- 
coming. However, I let them see that this was quite 
unnecessary.’ — ^Howell. 

The translator of the Arabian Nights gets the raspberry 

‘Among the gentler sex a soft look is imcommonly 
rare, and the aspect ranges from a stony stare to a 

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Sheaves from Sagaland 

sharp glance rendered fiercer by the habitual frown.’ — 
Burton. 

A psychological observation 

‘A certain feeling of discomfort always attached to the 
fact of sleeping in a chtirch alone in the midst of a grave- 
yard.’ — ^Pfeiffer. 

Curious behaviour of a Scotch baronet 

. ‘We instantly left omr guides and the horses to manage 
matters as they could; and rushing over slags, lava, and 
mud, fell upon the snow like wild beasts upon their prey. 
My enjoyment was excessive; and the very recollection of 
it is so gratifying that I must be excused for recording a 
circumstance of so little importance.’ — ^McKenzie. 

Art without malice 

‘The clergyman had a large family and McDiarmed 
good-natmredly took a blooming little maiden of six or 
seven years a ride on his pony; while Lord Lodbrog drew a 
very accurate sketch of his home and church. It was really 
very well done and when pinned up against the wall of the 
sitting-room had a smart appearance.’ — ^Umbra. 

Hear, Hear! 

‘Let’s go home. We can’t camp in this beastly place. 

— What is he saying? 

— I’m not going to camp here. 

— You must. All Englishmen do. 

— Blast all Englishmen.’ — ^William Morris. 

Moral drawn from a Geysir 

‘While the jets were rushing up towards Heaven with 
the velocity of an arrow my mind was forcibly borne along 
with them to the contemplation of the Great and Omni- 
potent Jehovah in comparison with whom these and all 
the wondears scattered over the whole immensity of exist- 
ence dwindle into absolute insignificance; whose almighty 



Sheaves from Sagaland 


commands spake the universe into being; and at v^hose 
sovereign fiat the whole fabric might be reduced, in an 
instant, to its original nothing.’ — Henderson. 

Rudeness shown to the same Gey sir 

‘^Darwin profanely called the Geysir an old brute.’ — 
Umbra. 

Spread of Nazi Doctrines among the Icelandic ponies 

‘Famous scientists, doctors, politicians, and writers; 
mounted her and rode for a wonderful week’s tour. Richer 
in experience, strengthened and refreshed by Nature, 
ready for a new struggle with the arch-fiend culture, they 
went home and gave lectures.’ — Fleuron. 

PART IV. — HOME AGAIN 

Liar: or Miles on Pfeiffer 

‘Where she does not knowingly tell direct falsehoods, 
the guesses she makes about those regions that she does 
not visit — ^while stating that she does — show her to be bad 
at guesswork.’ — ^Miles. 

Cissy: or Locke on Locke 

‘What a vacillating set! I woidd have gone on alone had 
I been of the party; and therefore it is pleasing to be able 
to disclaim relationship with one so wanting in firmness of 
purpose as the author of the Home of the Eddas appears 
to be from this and other incidents.’ — ^W. G. Locke. 


THE 1809 REVOLUTION 
(Mainly from Hooker and Mackenzie) 

In the year 1808, when Great Britain was at war with 
Denmark, an eminent and honourable merchant of Lon- 

^75 




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don, Mr, Samuel Phelps, learned from a young Dane of 
twenty-seven, Mr. Jorgen Jorgensen, that there was a 
large quantity of goods, chiefly tallow, for sale in Iceland. 
Jorgensen, though bom of respectable parents, had been 
apprenticed on a British collier, served in the British navy, 
where, in his own words, he had imbibed the maxims, the 
principles, and the prejudices of Englishmen, and on his 
return to Copenhagen in 1806 had made himself unpopular 
by his pro-British sentiments. On the outbreak of war he 
had been put in command of a Danish privateer, but had 
been taken prisoner after an engagement off Flamborough 
Head with the Sappho and the Clio^ landed at Yarmouth, 
and set free on parole. 

As Iceland was wholly dependent on Denmark for 
necessary imports, the war was a serious matter for her, 
but the British, at the instigation of that exalted philan- 
thropist Sir Joseph Banks, had given an undertaking to 
allow Danish merchantmen to trade unmolested with the 
island. These excellent intentions of His Majesty’s 
Government were somewhat frustrated, however, by the 
behaviour of one of His subjects, for in 1808 a Captain 
Gilpin arrived in Beykjavik and made off with some 
36,000 rix dollars apportioned for the relief of the poor. 
To return to Mr. Phelps: acting on Jorgensen’s information, 
he commissioned a Liverpool ship, the Clarence^ com- 
manded by Mr. Jackson, to sail to Iceland with a cargo 
which, according to himself, consisted largely of neces- 
saries, barley meal, potatoes, and salt, and according to 
Count Tramp, the Danish Governor of the Island, con- 
sisted largely of luxuries. Mr. Jackson undertook to molest 
no Danish ships under a penalty of an £8,000 fine. The 
CSarence^ with Jorgensen, who omitted to mention his 
departure to the authorities, and an English super- cargo, 
Mr. Savigmac, set sail in December and landed in Reyk- 
javik at the beginning of January 1809. 

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Sheaves from Sagaland 

Here they discreetly showed an American flag and 
American papers, but were refused permission to trade, 
whereupon they hoisted the British flag, hut with no 
greater success. As Icelandic trade was a legal Danish 
monopoly, this refusal on the part of the Danish officials 
was, perhaps, not unnatural. Mr. Savigniac, however, was 
determined to bring the Government to a sense of its duty 
and interest, and ordered Captain Jackson to capture a 
Danish brig which had just arrived. The officials capitu- 
lated, and apparently gave some sort of permission, but 
the Icelanders, either because they were fiightened, or 
because they did not want the goods — ^it was a bad time 
of the year for business — showed no inclination to buy or 
sell. So matters continued till June, when Count Tramp 
returned from Copenhagen on the Orion. A proclamation 
forbidding the Icelanders to trade with the English under 
point of death which had been previously composed but 
kept in a chest till his arrival was now published. Shortly 
afterwards, a British man-of-war, the Rover^ commanded 
by Captain Nott, arrived, *with the object of which in 
these parts’, says Count Tramp, T was unacquainted, 
and the peaceable proceedings of which no convention 
secured.’ On June 16th it appears that a convention was 
arrived at between Count Tramp and Captain Nott per- 
mitting trade, but this agreement, though sent to the press, 
was somehow never published and the existing prohibition 
remained in force. The Rover departed, but on June 21st 
Mr. Phelps arrived in person, with the Flora and the Mar- 
garet and Anne^ a ship of ten guns under Captain Liston. 

By June 25th Mr. Phelps had decided that %nger 
delay would be materially prejudicial to his interests, and 
he must consequently be imder the necessity of having 
recourse to measures no more consonant to his inclinations 
than to his feelings’. He seized the Orion, and marching with 
an armed crew of twelve to the Governor’s house, on Sunday 

77 


Sheaves from Sagaland 


afternoon after Divine Service, arrested Count Trampin the 
of a conversation with a Mr. Kofoed. According to 
his own account there were a number of Icelanders loiter- 
ing about with long poles shod with iron spikes who made 
no attempt to resist them, in spite of the fact that ‘it is 
sufficiently known that in times of war the crews of mer- 
chant ships consist of such men only as are unfit for the 
service of His Majesty.’ He then asked Jorgensen to take 
over the government of the Island, a prospect which seems 
to have been highly agreeable to that yoxmg gentleman 
for, on the next morning, he issued a proclamation dis- 
solving all Danish authority, confiscating all Danish pro- 
perty, confining aU Danes to their houses, threatening all 
offenders against these decrees with being shot within two 
hours, and promising all native Icelanders ‘undisturbed 
tranquility and a felicity hitherto imknown’. On the 
evening of the same day (Jime 26th) he issued a second 
proclamation by which Iceland was declared an indepen- 
dent republic, aU debts to Denmark were repudiated, and 
the island was to be put in a state of defence. This last 
provision proved more difficult than was anticipated. A 
house-to-house search in Reykjavik only produced twenty 
to thirty old fowling pieces, most of them useless, and a 
few swords and pistols, so that the Icelandic army was 
necessarily restricted to ‘eight men who dressed in green 
tuuforms, armed with swords and pistols, and mounted on 
good ponies, scoured the country in various directions, 
intimidating the Danes, and making themselves highly 
useful to the new Governor, in securing the goods and 
property that were to be confiscated’. (The value of these 
varies in different accounts from 16,000 to 19,000 rix 
dollars.) As a farther act of authority, and to show the 
clemency intended to be pursued, four prisoners confined 
in the Tught-hus were released and the place itself con- 
verted into barracks for the soldiers. 

78 



Sheaves from Sagaland 


The greater part of the army was soon employed in 
seizing the persons of two of the civil officers, Mr, Frydens- 
burg and Mr. Einersen, who were kept in confinement, the 
former for one night, the latter for eight or ten days. 
Hooker, who was an eye-witness of Einersen’s arrest, says 
that ‘a horse was taken for him upon which he was placed 
and, guarded by Jorgensen and his cavalry, was marched, 
or rather galloped, into the town’. Meanwhile Mr. Samuel 
Phelps had not been idle, but, to protect the town *an office 
which he readily undertook for the security of the very con- 
siderable property he now had there’, was building Fort 
Phelps, which he equipped with six guns that had lain 
buried in the sand on the shore for over 140 years. 

On July 11th Jorgensen issued yet another proclama- 
tion assuming the title of his Excellency the Protector of 
Iceland, Commander-in-Chief by sea and land, decreeing 
his private seal J. J. as the official seal, and forbidding all 
irreverence to his person. A new flag, three split stockfish 
upon a dark blue groimd, was hoisted for the first time on 
the top of a warehouse under a salute of eleven guns from 
the Margaret andAnne^ and was afterwards hoisted on Sun- 
days. Having done this,his Excellency set out on foot for the 
North with five of his army, and later returned with one. 

All this time Count Tramp was a prisoner on board the 
Margaret and Anne^ where he does not appear to have been 
satisfied with his treatment. ‘Bent down’, he says, ‘under 
the weight of so much grief and affliction united, it now 
became my lot to be kept confined in a narrow and dirty 
cabin, and sometimes, when Captain Liston took it into 
his head, even shut up in a small room, or rather closet, 
where I was deprived of the light of the day. Constantly I 
was obliged to put up with the society of drunken and 
noisy mates, and, with them for my companions, I was 
reduced to exist on fare which even the men complained 
of as being more than commonly indifferent; in short, I 

79 




Sheaves from Sagaland 

was deprived for the space of nine weeks, of every con- 
venience and comfort of life to which I had been used, and 
stibjected to all the suflferiags which the oppressor had it 
in his power to inflict.’ 

These sufferings, however, were not destined to last. 
On August 8th occurred an event ‘as unforeseen as it was 
unfavourable to the present state of political and com- 
mercial affairs.’ The Talbot, commanded by the Honour- 
able Alexander Jones, arrived in Hafhafjordur, and, after 
hearing both sides and deciding that ‘owing to his former 
situation in life’ Mr. Jorgensen was unwelcome to the 
inhabitants, arrested him for having broken his parole, 
restored the Danish authority, destroyed Fort Phelps, and, 
after a delay due to some Danes setting fire to the Margaret 
and Anne, left Iceland at the end of August with Phelps, 
Count Tramp, Jorgensen, and a congratulatory ode to 
himself composed in Icelandic and Latin by a certain 
Magnus Finnursson, or Finnur Magnusson, from which 
the following is a translated extract: 

He pretended that he served the English King: that he 
depended on the protection of his armies. 

He armed brothers against each other: terror seized the 
remainder of the people. 

Who had never before beheld the sword or blood: and 
unwillingly submitted to the insolent yoke. 

He, more powerful, raised fortifications: and erected his 
standard black as hell. 

He took a lordly title: having dared to assume posses- 
sion of the supreme power. 

He pretended that our people wished for these things: 
and that they aU demanded these tumults. 

The Revolution had lasted fifty-eight days, twelve men 
had been employed, but not a shot fired (except in salutes) 
nor a sabre unsheathed. 


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Sheaves from Sagaland 


The siibse<iueiit history of Samuel Phelps, *who was in 
part to blame’, is unknown, but the unfortimate Jorgensen 
was sent to the hulks at Chatham for a year, and was 
afterwards released on parole at Reading. In prison, how- 
ever, it seems that he had become a confirmed gambler, 
and after sundry adventures was finally deported to Tas- 
mania, where he became an explorer and a policeman. He 
died at Hobartstown in 1844. On February 7th, 1810, the 
British Government issued a decree guaranteeing the im- 
munity of Iceland, the Faroes, and Greenland, from British 
attack, and encouraging British trade with these places. 
Count Tramp declared that ‘the peculiar favour which 
Iceland and its concerns have met with here and the 
manner in which His Majesty’s ministers have interested 
themselves in its welfare, and above all the security ob- 
tained for the future, has entirely obliterated all bitterness 
from my heart’, but good Imperialists, like Hooker, still 
grumbled a little. ‘England should no longer hesitate’, 
he wrote, ‘about the adoption of a step to which every 
native Icelander looks forward as the greatest blessing 
that can befall his coimtry, and which to England herself 
would, I am persuaded, be productive of various signal 
advantages, the taking possession of Iceland and holding 
it among her dependencies. Iceland, thus freed from the 
yoke of an inefl&cient but presumptuous tyrant, might 
then, guarded by the protection of our fleets and fostered 
by the liberal policy of our Commercial Laws, look for- 
ward to a security that Denmark could never afford, and 
to a prosperity that the selfishness of the Danes has always 
prevented; while England would find herself repaid for her 
generous conduct by the extension of her fisheries, the 
surest source of her prosperity, and by the safety which 
the numerous harbours of the Island afford for her mer- 
chantmen against the storms and perils of the Arctic 
Ocean.’ 


F 


81 


Sheaves from Sagaland 


AN ICELANDIC SUPPER IN 1809 
(Hooker) 

^On the cloth was nothing but a plate, a knife and fork, 
a wine glass, and a bottle of claret, for each guest, except 
that in the middle stood a large and handsome glass-castor 
of sugar, with a magnificent silver top. The dishes are 
brought in singly; our first was a large tureen of soup, 
which is a favourite addition to the dinners of the richer 
people, and is made of sago, claret, and raisins, boiled so 
as to become almost a mucilage. We were helped to two 
soup plates full of this, which we ate without knowing if 
anything was to come. No sooner, however, was the soup 
removed, than two large salmon, boiled and cut in sUces, 
were brought on and, with them, melted butter looking 
like oil, mixed with vinegar and pepper; this, likewise, was 
very good and when we had with some difi&culty cleared 
our plates, we hoped we had finished our dinners. Not so, 
for there was then introduced a tureen full of eggs of the 
Cree, a great tern, boiled hard, of which a dozen were put 
upon each of our plates; and for sauce, we had a large 
basin of cream, mixed with sugar, in which were four 
spoons, so that we all ate out of the same bowl, placed in 
the middle of the table. We devoured with difiGlculty our 
eggs and cream, but had no sooner dismissed our plates, 
than half a sheep, well roasted, came on with a mess of 
sorrel called by the Danes, scurvy-grass, boiled, mashed 
and sweetened with sugar. However, even this was not all; 
for a large dish of waffels as they are here called, that is to 
say, a sort of pancake made of wheat flour, flat, and 
roasted in a mould, which forms a number of s(juares on 
the top, succeeded the mutton. This was not more than 
half an inch thick and about the size of an octavo book. 
Then bread, Norway biscuit and loaves made of rye were 

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Sheaves from Sagaland 


served up: for our drink we had nothing but claret, of 
which we were all compelled to empty the bottle that 
stood by us, and this too out of tumblers rather than 
wine-glasses. The coffee was extremely good and we 
trusted it woidd terminate the feast; but all was not yet 
over; for a large bowl of rum punch was brought in and 
handed round in glasses pretty freely, and to every glass 
a toast was given. Another bowl actually came which we 
were with difficulty allowed to refuse to empty entirely; 
nor could this be done but by ordering our people to get 
the boat ready for our departure, when, having concluded 
this extraordinary feast by three cups of tea each, we took 
our leave and reached Reykjavik about ten o’clock, but 
did not for some time recover from the effects of this most 
involimtary intemperance.’ 


ERUPTION OF THE ORAEFAJOKULL, 1727 

(Jon. Thorlaksson, Minister of Sandfell, quoted 
in Mackenzie) 

Tn the year 1727, on the 7th August, which was the 
tenth Sunday after Trinity, after the commencement of 
divine service in the church of Sandfell, as I stood before 
the altar, I was sensible of a gentle concussion under my 
feet, which I did not mind at first; but, during the delivery 
of the sermon, the rocking continued to increase, so as to 
alarm the whole congregation; yet they remarked that the 
like had often happened before. One of them, a very aged 
man, repaired to a spring, a little below the house, where 
he prostrated him self on the groimd, and was laughed at 
by the rest for his pains; but, on his return, I asked him 
what it was he wished to ascertain, to which he repUed, 
‘‘Be on your guard, Sir; the earth is on fire!” Turning, at 

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Sheaves from Sagaland 


the same moment, towards the church door, it appeared 
to me, and all who were present, as if the house contracted 
and drew itself together. I now left the church, necessarily 
ruminating on what the old man had said; and as I came 
opposite to Mount Flega, and looked up towards the sum- 
mit, it appeared alternately to expand and be heaved up, 
and fall again to its former state. Nor was I mistaken in 
this, as the event shewed; for on the morning of the 8th, 
we not only felt frequent and violent earthquakes, but 
also heard dreadful reports, in no respect inferior to 
thunder. Everything that was standing in the houses was 
thrown down by these shocks; and there was reason to 
apprehend, that mountains as well as houses would be 
overturned in the catastrophe. What most augmented the 
terror of the people was, that nobody could divine in what 
place the disaster would originate, or where it would end. 

‘After nine o’clock, three particularly loud reports were 
heard, which were almost instantaneously followed by 
several eruptions of water that gushed out, the last of 
which was the greatest, and completely carried away the 
horses and other animals that it overtook in its course. 
When these exudations were over, the ice mountain itself 
ran down into the plain, just like melted metal poured out 
of a crucible; and on settling, filled it to such a height, that 
I could not discover more of the well-known mountain 
Lounagrupr than about the size of a bird. The water now 
rushed down the east side without intermission, and 
totally destroyed what little of the pasture-grounds re- 
mained. It was a most pitiable sight to behold the females 
crying, and my neighbours destitute both of counsel and 
courage: however, as I observed that the current directed 
its course towards my house, I removed my family up to 
the top of a high rock, on the side of the mountain, called 
Dalskardstorfa, where I caused a tent to be pitched, and 
all the church utensils, together with our food, clothes and 

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Sheaves from Sagaland 


other things that were most necessary, to be conveyed 
thither; drawing the conclusion, that should the eruption 
break forth at some other place, this height wotdd escape 
the longest, if it were the will of God, to whom we com- 
mitted ourselves, and remained there. 

"Things now assumed quite a different appearance. The 
JokuU itself exploded, and precipitated masses of ice, 
many of which were hurled out to the sea; but the thickest 
remained on the plain, at a short distance from the foot 
of the mountain. The noise and reports continuing, the 
atmosphere was so completely filled with fire and ashes, 
that day could scarcely he distinguished from night, by 
reason of the darkness which followed, and which was 
barely rendered visible by the light of the fire that had 
broken through five or six cracks in the mountain. In this 
manner the parish of Oraefa was tormented for three days 
together; yet it is not easy to describe the disaster as it was 
in reality; for the surface of the groimd was entirely 
covered with pumice-sand, and it was impossible to go out 
in the open air with safety, on account of the red-hot 
stones that fell from the atmosphere. Any who did venttire 
out, had to cover their heads with buckets, and such 
other wooden utensils as could afford them some pro- 
tection. 

‘On the 11th it cleared up a little in the neighbourhood; 
but the ice-mountain still continued to send forth smoke 
and flames. The same day I rode, in company with three 
others, to see how matters stood with the parsonage, as it 
was most exposed, but we could only proceed with the 
utmost danger, as there was no other way except between 
the ice-mountain and the JokuU which had been precipi- 
tated into the plain, where the water was so hot that the 
horses almost got unmanageable: and, just as we enter- 
tained the hope of getting through by this passage, I 
happened to look behind me, when I descried a fresh 

85 



Sheaves from Sagaland 


deluge of hot water directly above me, which, had it 
reached us, must inevitably have swept us before it. Con- 
triving, of a sudden, to get on the ice, I called to my 
companions to make the utmost expedition in following 
me; and by this means, we reached Sandfell in safety. The 
whole of the farm, together with the cottages of two 
tenants, had been destroyed; only the dwelling houses 
remained, and a few spots of the tuns. The people stood 
crying in the church. The cows which, contrary to all ex- 
pectation, both here and elsewhere, had escaped the 
disaster, were lowing beside a few hay-stacks that had 
been damaged during the eruption. At the time the exuda- 
tion of the JokuH broke forth, the half of the people be- 
longing to the parsonage were in four nearly-constructed 
sheep-cotes, where two women and a boy took refuge on 
the roof of the highest; but they had hardly reached it 
when, heing unable to resist the force of the thick mud 
that was home against it, it was carried away by the 
deluge of hot water and, as far as the eye could reach, the 
three unfortunate persons were seen clinging to the roof. 
One of the women was afterwards found among the sub- 
stances that had proceeded from the Jokull, but burnt 
and, as it were, parboiled; her body was so soft that it 
could scarcely be touched. Everything was in the most 
deplorable condition. The sheep were lost; some of which 
were washed up dead from the sea in the third parish from 
Oraefa. The hay that was saved was found insufficient for 
the cows so that a fifth part of them had to be killed; and 
most of the horses which had not been swept into the 
ocean were afterwards foimd completely mangled. The 
eastern part of the parish of Sida was also destroyed by 
the pumice and sand; and the inhabitants were on that 
account obliged to kill many of their cattle. 

Tlie mountain continued to bum night and day from 
the 8th of August, as already mentioned, till the heginning 

86 



Sheaves from Sagaland 

of Summer in the month of April the following year, at 
which time the stones were still so hot that they could not 
be touched; and it did not cease to emit smoke till near the 
end of the Summer, Some of them had been completely 
calcined; some were black and full of holes; and others 
were so loose in their contexture that one could blow 
through them. On the first day of Summer 1728, 1 went in 
company with a person of quality to examine the cracks 
in the mountain, most of which were sq large that we could 
creep into them. I found here a quantity of saltpetre and 
could have collected it, but did not choose to stay long in 
the excessive heat. At one place a heavy calcined stone lay 
across a large aperture; and as it rested on a small basis, 
we easily dislodged it into the chasm but could not observe 
the least sign of its having reached the bottom. These are 
the more remarkable particulars that have occurred to 
me with respect to this moxmtain; and thus God hath led 
me through fire and water, and brought me through much 
trouble and adversity to my eightieth year. To Him be 
the honour, the praise, and the glory for ever.’ 

(For an account of the 1783 eruption see Nagrus Ste- 
fansson’s account, quoted in Hooker, pp. 405-426.) 


87 




EXTRACT FROM SUARBAR PARISH RECISTER» 1805 


Sheaves from Sagaland 



88 










Sheaves from Sagaland 


BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Ajrngriiniir Jonsson: Brevis Commentarius^ 1592; Anatome 
Blefkeniana^ 1612; Epistola Defensoria^ 1618; Apo^ 
tribe Calumniae^ 1622; Chrymogea^ 1609-1630; Speci- 
men Islandiae^ 1643. 

Blefkenius: Islandia^ 1607, 

Jour Boty: Treatise of the land from Iceland to Greenland 
(Purchas III), 1608. 

La Peyrfere: Account of Iceland (Churchill II), 1644. 

John Andersson: Nachrichten von Island^ 1746. 

Niels Horrehow: Nachrichten von Island^ 1750. 

Tremarec: Relation d^un voyage dans la Mer du Nord, 
1772. 

Joseph Banks and Van Troil: Letters from Iceland^ 1772. 

Hooker: Journal of a tour in Iceland^ 1811. 

Sir George MacKenzie: Travels in Iceland^ 1812. 

Ebenezer Henderson: Iceland^ 1818. 

John Barrow: A Visit to Iceland^ 1835. 

Arthur Dillon: A Winter (1834) in Iceland and Lapland^ 
1840. 

Marmier: Lettres sur Vlslande^ 1837. 

Paul Gaimard: Voyage en Islande et au Greenland (8 vols.), 
1838-1852. 

Madam Ida Pfeiffer: A Visit to Iceland^ 1854. 

Pliny Miles: Rambles in Iceland^ 1854. 

Robert Chambers: Tracings of Iceland and the Faroe 
Islands^ 1856. 

Charle^Edmund: Voyage dans les Mers du Nord^ 1857. 

'Lord Dufferin: Letters from High Latitudes^ 1858. 

Captain Forbes: Iceland^ 1860. 

Metcalfe: The Oxonian in Iceland, 1861. 

Symington: Pen and Pencil Sketches, 1862. 

Baring-Gould: Iceland, its Scenes and Sagas, 1863. 

Umbra (Clifford): Travels, 1865. 

89 




Sheaves from Sagaland 

Shepherd: The N.W. Peninsula of Iceland, 1867. 

PaykuU: A Summer in Iceland, 1868. 

•William Morris: Journal, 1871-1873. 

•Viscount Bryce: Impressions of Iceland, 1872 (pub. 1923). 
Taylor: Egypt and Iceland, 1874 (pub. 1902). 

Richard Burton: UUima Thule, 1875. 

Lord Watts: Across the Vatnajokull, 1876. 

Anthony Trollope: How the Mastiffs went to Iceland, 1878. 
C. W. Locke: The Home of the Eddas, 1879. 

W. G. Locke: Askja, 1881. 

Coles: Summer-Travel in Iceland, 1882. 

Miss Oswald: By Fell and Fjord, 1882. 

Mrs. Alec Tweedie: A QirVs Tour in Iceland, 1882. 

Eugene de Groote: Island, 1889. 

Howell: Icelandic Pictures, 1893. 

•Collingwood and Stefansson: A Pilgrimage to the Saga- 
steads of Iceland, 1899. 

William Bischer: Across Iceland, 1902. 

Annandale: The Faroes and Iceland, 1905. 

Daniel Bruun: Iceland. Routes over the Highlands, 1907. 
W. Russell: Iceland. Horseback Tours in Sagaland, 1914. 
Paul Hermann: Island. Das Land und das Volk, 1914. 
Prinz: Dos XJnbekannte Island, 1932. 

Mrs. Chapman: Across Iceland, 1934. 

*Specially recommended. 


90 



Chapter VII 

Letter to R. H. S. Crossman, Esq, 

III ai gHSH gigrm - 


Mulaho% July Bth 

A. glacier brilliant in the heights of summer 
Feeding a putty-coloured river: a field, 

A countryside collected in a field 
To appreciate or try its strength; 

The two flags twitter at the entrance gates. 

I walk among them taking photographs; 

The children stare and follow, think of questions 
To prove the stranger real. Beyond the wire 
The ponies graze who never will grow up to question 
The justice of their permanent discipline. 

Nevertheless let the camera’s eye record it: 

Groups in confabulation on the grass, 

The shuffling couples in their heavy hoots. 

The young men leaping, the accordion playing. 

Justice or not, it is a world. 

Isn’t it true however far we’ve wandered 

Into our provinces of persecution 

Where our regrets accuse, we keep returning 

Back to the common faith from which we’ve all dissented, 

Back to the hands, the feet, the faces? 

91 



Letter to R. H. S. Crossman, Esq. 


CMldren are always there and take the hands 
Even when they’re most terrified; those in love 
Cannot make up their minds to go or stay; 

Artist and doctor return most often; 

Only the mad will never never come back. 

For doctors keep on worrying while away 
In case their skill is suffering and deserted; 

Lovers have lived so long with giants and elves 
They want belief again in their own size; 

And the artist prays ever so gently — 

^Let me find pure all that can happen. 

Only uniqueness is success! For instance. 

Let me perceive the images of history, 

All that I push away with doubt and travel. 
To-day’s and yesterday’s, alike like bodies.’ 

Yes, just like that. See Gxmnar killed 
At HUtharendi white across the river. 

And Flosi waiting on Three Corner Ridge, 

And as the dancing turns me round 
The servants fighting up on Little Daimon. 

But not these only, just as clearly 
As them, as clearly as at the moment 
The wraps of cellophane tom off 
From cigarettes flit through the glass 
Like glittering butterflies, I must see all. 

The service yesterday among the copse of ashes. 
The old men dragging h3nmns, the woman weeping 
Leaning against her husband as he yawned; 

And two days back the townee from the gasworks 
Riding to Thorsmork, highly-stnmg, 

92 




Letter to R. H. S. Crossman, Esq. 

Loud-voiced, consumed with passion to excel 
His slower- witted red-faced friend. 

And see there if I can the growth, the wonder, 

Not symbols of an end, not cold extremities 
Of a tradition sick at heart. 

For that’s our vulgar error, isn’t it, 

When we see nothing but the law and order. 

The formal interdiction from the garden, 

A legend of a sword, and quite forget 
The rusting apple core we’re clutching still. 

It’s that that makes us really selfish: 

When the whole fault’s mechanical, 

A maladjustment in the circling stars. 

And goodness just an abstract principle 
Which by hypothesis some men must have. 

For whom we spend our idle lives in looking. 

And are so lazy that we quickly find them. 

Or rather, like a child that feels neglected. 

Our proof of goodness is the power to punish, 

We recognise them when they make us suffer. 

Until indeed the Markaflj ot I see 
Wasting these fields, is no glacial flood 
But history, hostile. Time the destroyer 
Everywhere washing our will, winding through Europe 
An attack, a division, shifting its fords. 

Flowing through Oxford too, past dons of good will, 
Stroking their truths away like a headache 
Till only the unicorn and the fabulous bogey 
Are real, and distinctly human only 
The anarchist’s loony refusing cry:— 

93 




Letter to R. H. S. Crossman, Esq. 


^Harden the heart as the might lessens* 

Fame shall be ours of a noble defence 
In a narrow place. No choices are good. 

And the word of fate can never be altered 
Though it be spoken to our own destruction.’ 


Dear Dick, 

• I have just been staying in the Nj^ country. I gather 
the Nazis look on that sort of life as the cradle of all the 
virtues. The enclosed laws and regulations seem so dotty, 
I thought they might interest you. 

W. 


Formula of Peace-Making 

1. There was feud between N. N. and M. M. but now 
they are set at one and many: 

As the meter meted 

And the teller told 

And the doomsman deemed 

And the givers gave 

And the receivers received 

And carried it away 

With full fee as paid ounce 

Handselled to them that cry’d to have it. 

2. Ye two shall be made men: 

At one and in agreement 
At feast and food 

At moot and meeting of the people 
At church-soken and in the king’s house. 

And wheresoever men meet 

Ye shall be so reconciled together as that it shall hold for 
ever between you. 


94 



Letter to R. H. S. Crossman^ Esq. 

3. Ye two shall share knife and carven steak 

And all things between yon 
As friends and not as foes. 

4. If case of quarrel or feud arise between you other than 
is well It shall he booted or paid for with money and not 
by reddening the dart or arrow. 

5. And he of ye twain that shall go against the settle- 
ment or atonement made 

Or break the bidden troth. 

He shall be wolf hUnted, and to be himted 
As lean as men seek wolves; 

Christian men seek churches; 

Heathen men sacrifice in temples; 

Fire burneth; earth groweth; 

Son calleth mother, and mother heareth son; 

Folk kindle fire; 

Ship saileth; snow lieth; 

The Fin skateth; the fir groweth; 

The hawk flieth the long Spring day, 

With a fair wind behind him and wings outspread; 
Heaven tumeth; earth is dwelt on; 

Wind bloweth; waters fall to the sea; 

Churl soweth com. 

6. He shall be out-cast 

From Church and Christian men; 

From houses of Gods and from men. 

From every world save hell-woe or torment. 

7. Now do ye two both hold one book and place the 
money on the book that N. N. payeth for himself and his 
heirs 

Bom and unborn 
Begotten and unbegotten 
Named and unnamed. 

95 




Letter to R. H. S. Crossman ^ Esq. 

8* N. N. taketh troth and truce as M. M. giveth it. 

Dear troth and strong troth 
An everlasting peace that shall hold for ever 
While the world is and men live. 

9. Now are N. N. and M. M. at peace or atonement and 
accord wherever they meet 
On land or water 
On sea or on horseback 
To share oar and bilge scoop 
Bench and bulwark if need be 
Even set with each other 
AlS father with son or son with father 
In all dealings together. 

Now they lay hands together, N. N. and M. M. Hold 
well these troths, by the will of Christ and of all those men 
that have now heard this form of peace: 

May he have God’s grace that holdeth these troths or 
truce 

And he His wrath that breaketh these troths or truce 

And he have grace that holdeth them. 

Hail, ye that are set at one 

And we that are set as witnesses thereto. 

Codex Regius. 


Law of Wager of Battle 

1. There should be a cloak of five ells in the skirt and 
loops at the comers. They must put down pegs with heads 
on one end that were called Tiosnos. He that was perform- 
ing must go to the Tiosnos so that the sky could be seen 
between his legs, holding the lobes of his ears, with this 
form of words (words lost); and afterwards was performed 
the sacrifice that is called the Tiosno -sacrifice. 

2. There must be three lines about the cloak of a foot 

96 





Letter to R. H. S. Crossman^ Esq. 


breadth; outside the lines there must be fom: posts, and 
they are called hazels, and the field is hazelled when this 
is done. 

3. A man shall have three shields, and when they are 
gone, then he shall step on to the skin though he have left 
it before, and then he must defend himself with weapon 
henceforth. 

4. He shall strike first that is challenged. 

5. If one of them be wounded so that blood come on the ' 
cloak, they shall not fight any longer. 

6. If a man step with one foot outside the hazels, he is 
said to flinch; but if he step outside with both feet, he is 
said to run. 

7. His own man shall hold the shield for each of them 
that fight. 

8. He shall pay ransom that is the more wounded, three 
marks of silver as ransom. 


The Viking Law 

1. No man should enter that was older than fifty and 
none younger than eighteen winters. All must be between 
these ages. 

2. Never should kinship be taken into account of when 
they wished to enter that were not in the league. 

3. No man there should run before a man of like power 
or like arms. 

4. Every man there should avenge the other as he would 
his brother. 

5. None then should there speak a word of fear or dread 
of anything, however perilous things might be. 

6. All that they took in warfare should be brought to the 
stang or pole, little or big, that was of any value; and if a 
man had not done this, he must be driven out. 

97 


G 




Letter to R. H. S. Grossman^ Esq. 

7. None there should kindle discussion or waken quarrel. 

8. And if tidings came no man should be so rash as to 
tell it to anyone, but all tidings should be told to the Cap- 
tain. 

9. No man should bring a woman into the fort. 

10. And none should be abroad three nights together. 

11. And though one had been taken into fellowship that 
had slain father or brother of a man that was there before, 
or any near kinsman, and it was found out after he was 
received, the Captain should judge the whole case and 
whatever quarrel might arise between them. 

12. No man should have a sword longer than an ell, so 
close were they to go. 

13. They never took prisoners, women nor children. 

14. No man should bind a woimd till the same hour next 
day. 

15. No man of them had less strength than two ordinary 
men. 

16. It was their custom to lie ever outside the nesses. 

17. It was another custom of theirs never to put awnings 
on their ships and never to furl the sail for the wind. 


98 



Chapter VIII 
Letter to Lord Byron 

PART III 




jVIy last remarks were sent you £rom a boat. 

I’m back on shore now in a warm bed-sitter. 
And several j&iends have joined me since I wrote; 
So though the weather out of doors is bitter, 
I feel a great deal cheerier and fitter. 

A party from a public school, a poet. 

Have set a rapid pace, and make me go it. 


We’re starting soon on a big expedition 

Into the desert, which I’m sure is corking: 
Many would like to be in my position. 

I only hope there won’t be too much walking. 
Now let me see, where was I? We were talking 
Of Social Questions when I had to stop; 

I t-bink it’s time now for a little shop. 


In setting up my brass-plate as a critic, 

1 make no claim to certain diagnosis, 

I’m more intuitive than analytic, 

I offer thought in homoeopathic doses 
(But someone may get better in the process). 
I don’t pretend to reasoning like Pritchard’s 
Or the logomachy of I. A. Richards. 

99 



Letter to Lord Byron 


I like your muse because she’s gay and witty, 

Because she’s neither prostitute nor firump. 

The daughter of a European city, 

And country houses long before the slump; 

I like her voice that does not make me jump: 

And you I find sympatisch, a good townee. 

Neither a preacher, ninny, bore, nor Brownie. 

A poet, swimmer, peer, and man of action, 

— It beats Roy Campbell’s record by a mile — 

You offer every possible attraction. 

By looking into your poetic style. 

And love-life on the chance that both were vile. 
Several have earned a decent livelihood. 

Whose lives were uncreative but were good. 

You’ve had your packet from the critics, though: 

They grant you warmth of heart, but at your head 
Their moral and aesthetic brickbats throw. 

A ^vulgar genius’ so George EUot said. 

Which doesn’t matter as George Eliot’s dead, 

But T, S. EUot, I am sad to find. 

Damns you with: ^an uninteresting mind’. 

A statement which I must say I’m ashamed at; 

A poet must be judged by his intention. 

And serious thought you never said you aiined at. 

I think a serious critic ought to mention 
That one verse style was really your invention, 

A style whose meaning does not need a spanner. 

You are the master of the airy manner. 

By all means let us touch our humble caps to 
La po€sie pure, the epic narrative; 

But comedy shall get its round of claps, too. 

100 



Letter to Lord Byron 

According to Iiis powers^ each may give; 

Only on varied diet can vre Kve. 

The pious fable and the dirty story 
Share in the total literary glory. 

There’s every mode of singing robe in stock. 

From Shakespeare’s gorgeous fur coat, Spenser’s muflf. 
Or Dryden’s lounge suit to my cotton frock. 

And Wordsworth’s Harris tweed with leathern cuff. 
Firbank, I think, wore just a just-enough; 

I fancy Whitman in a reach-me-down. 

But you, like Sherlock, in a dressing-gown. 

I’m also glad to find I’ve your authority 

For finding Wordsworth a most bleak old bore. 
Though I’m afiraid we’re in a sad minority 
For every year his followers get more, 

Their number must have doubled since the war. 

They come in train-loads to the Lakes, and swarms 
Of pupil-teachers study him in Storings. 

T hate a pupil-teacher’ Milton said. 

Who also hated bureaucratic fools; 

Milton may thank his stars that he is dead. 

Although he’s learnt by heart in public schools. 

Along with Wordsworth and the list of rules; 

For many a don while looking down his nose 
Calls Pope and Dryden classics of our prose. 

And new plants flower from that old potato. 

They thrive best in a poor industrial soil. 

Are hardier crossed with Rousseaus’ or a Plato; 

Their ctJtivation is an easy toil. 

WiUiam, to change the metaphor, struck oil; 

His well seems inexhaustible, a gusher 

That saves old England from the fate of Russia. 

101 




Letter to Lord Byron 


The motmtain-snob is a 'Wordsworthian fruit; 

He tears his clothes and doesn’t shave his chin. 

He wears a very pretty little boot, 

He chooses the least comfortable inn; 

A moimtain railway is a deadly sin; 

His strength, of course, is as the strength of ten men. 

He calls all those who live in cities wen-men. 

I’m not a spoil-sport, I would never wish 
To interfere with anybody’s pleasures; 

By aU means cHmb, or htmt, or even fish. 

An human hearts have ugly little treasures; 

But tViinlr it time to take repressive measures 
"When someone says, adopting the ‘I know’ line. 

The Good Life is confined above the snow-line. 

Besides, I’m very fond of mountains, too; 

I like to travel through them in a car; 

I like a house that’s got a sweeping view; 

I like to walk, but not to walk too far. 

I also like green plains where cattle are. 

And trees and rivers, and shall always quarrel 
With those who think that rivers are immoral. 

Not that my private quarrel gives qpiietus to 
The interesting question that it raises; 

Impartial thought will give a proper status to 
This interest in waterfalls and daisies. 

Excessive love for the non-human faces. 

That lives in hearts from Golders Green to Teddington; 
It’s all bound up with Einstein, Jeans, and Eddington. 

It is a commonplace that’s hardly worth 

A poet’s while to make profotmd or terse. 

That now the sun does not go rotmd the earth, 

102 



Letter to Lord Byron 


That man’s no centre of the universe; 

And working in an office makes it worse. 

The humblest is acquiring with facility 
A Universal-Complex sensibility. 

For now we’ve learnt we mustn’t he so bumptious 
We find the stars are one big family. 

And send out invitations for a scrumptious 

Simple, old-fashioned, jolly romp with tea 
To any natural objects we can see. 

We can’t, of course, invite a Jew or Red 
But birds and nebulae will do instead. 

The Higher Mind’s outgrowing the Barbarian, 

It’s hardly thought hygienic now to kiss; 

The world is surely turning vegetarian; 

And as it grows too sensitive for this- 
It won’t be long before we find there is 
A Society of Everybody’s Aunts 
For the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants. 

I dread this like the dentist, rather more so: 

To me Art’s subject is the human clay. 

And landscape but a background to a torso; 

All Cezanne’s apples I would give away 
For one small Goya or a Daumier. 

I’ll never grant a more than minor beauty 
To pudge or pilewort, petty-chap or pooty. 

Art, if it doesn’t start there, at least ends. 

Whether aesthetics like the thought or not. 
In an attempt to entertain our fidends; 

And our first problem is to realise what 
Peculiar fiiends the modem artist’s got; 

It’s possible a little dose of history 
May help us in unravelling this mystery. 

103 




Letter to Lord Byron 

At tke Beginning I shall not begin. 

Not with the scratches in the ancient caves; 

Heard only knows the latest bulletin 

About the finds in the Egyptian graves; 

I’ll skip the war-dance of the Indian braves; 

Since, for the purposes I have in view. 

The English eighteenth century will do. 

• We find two arts in the Augustan age: 

One quick and graceful, and by no means holy. 
Relying on his lordship’s patronage; 

The other pious, sober, moving slowly. 

Appealing mainly to the poor and lowly. 

So Isaac Watts and Pope, each forced his entry 
To lower middle class and landed gentry. 

Two arts as different as Jews and Turks, 

Each serving aspects of the Reformation, 

Luther’s division into faith and works: 

The God of the unique imagination, 

A friend of those who have to know their station; 
And the Great Architect, the Engineer 
Who keeps the mighty in their higher sphere. 

The important point to notice, though, is this: 

Each poet knew for whom he had to write. 
Because their life was still the same as his. 

As long as art remains a parasite. 

On any class of persons it’s alright; 

The only thing it must be is attendant. 

The only thing it mustn’t, independent. 

But artists, though, are human; and for man 
To be a sciwy is not nice at all: 

So everyone will do the best he can 

104 




Letter to Lord Byron 


To get a patch of ground which he can call 
TTfq own. He doesn’t really care how small. 

So long as he can style himself the master: 
Unluckily for art, it’s a disaster* 

To be a highbrow is the natural state: 

To have a special interest of one’s own. 

Rock gardens, marrows, pigeons, silver plate, 
Collecting butterflies or bits of stone; 

And then to have a circle where one’s known 
Of hobbyists and rivals to discuss 
With expert knowledge what appeals to us. 

But to the artist this is quite forbidden: 

On this point he must differ from, the crowd, 
And, like a secret agent, must keep hidden 
His passion for his shop. However proud. 
And rightly, of his trade, he’s not allowed 
To etch his face with his professional creases. 

Or die from occupational diseases. 

Until the great Industrial Revolution 
The artist had to earn his livelihood: 
However much he hated the intrusion 

Of patron’s taste or public’s fickle mood, 

He had to please or go without his food; 

He had to keep his technique to himself 
Or find no joint upon his larder shelf. 

But Savoury and Newcomen and Watt 

And all those names that I was told to get up 
In history preparation and forgot, 

A new class of creative artist set up. 

On whom the pressure of demand was let up: 
He sang and painted and drew dividends. 

But lost responsibilities and friends. 

105 




Letter to Lord Byron 

Those most affected were the very best: 

Those with originality of vision, 

Those whose technique was better than the rest. 
Jumped at the chance of a secure position 
With freedom from the bad old hack tradition. 
Leave to be sole judges of the artist’s brandy. 

Be Shelley, or ChUde Harold, or the Dandy. 

So started what I’ll call the Poet’s Party: 

(Most of the guests were painters, never mind) — 
The first few hours the atmosphere was hearty. 

With fireworks, fun, and games of every kind; 
All were enjoying it, no one was blind; 

Brilliant the speeches improvised, the dances. 

And briUiant, too, the technical advances. 

How nice at first to watch the passers-by 
Out of the upper window, and to say 
‘How glad I am that though I have to die 

Like all those cattle, I’m less base than they!’ 
How we all roared when Baudelaire went fey. 
‘See this cigar’, he said, ‘it’s Baudelaire’s. 

What happens to perception? Ah, who cares?’ 

To-day, alas, that happy crowded floor 

Looks very different: many are in tears: 

Some have retired to bed and locked the door; 

And some swing madly from the chandeUers; 
Some have passed out entirely in the rears; 

Some have been sick in comers; the sobering few 
Axe trying hard to think of something new. 

I’ve made it seem the artist’s silly fault, 

In which case why these sentimental sobs ? 

In fact, of course, the whole tureen was salt. 

106 



Letter to Lord Byron 

The soup was full of little hits of snobs. 

The common clay and the uncommon nobs 
Were far too busy making piles or starving 
To look at pictures, poetry, or carving. 

I’ve simplified the facts to be emphatic. 

Playing Macaulay’s favourite little trick 
Of lighting that’s contrasted and dramatic; 

Because it’s true Art feels a trifle sick, 

You mustn’t th i n k the old girl’s lost her kick. 

And those, besides, who feel most like a sewer 
Belong to Painting not to Literature. 

You know the terror that for poets lurks 

Beyond the ferry when to Minos brought. 

Poets must utter their Collected Works, 

Including Juvenilia. So I thought 
That you might warn him. Yes, I think you ought. 
In case, when my turn comes, he shall cry ^Atta boys, 

Off with his bags, he’s crazy as a hatter, boys!’ 

The clock is striking and it’s time for lunch; 

We start at four. The weather’s none too bright. 
Some of the party look as pleased as Punch. 

We shall be travelling, as they call it, light; 

We shall be sleeping in a tent to-night. 

You know what Baden-Powell’s taught us, don’t you. 
Ora pro nobis, please, this evening, won’t you? 

END OF FART HI 


107 



Chapter IX 

r. H. A. to E. M. A.-No. 1 


July I2th. 


StudmtagarthuTinn 

Reykjavik 


As you see, I’ve really got here. I didn’t go to Finland 
after all. I felt another country would only be muddling. 
Finland has not the slightest connection with Iceland, and 
a travel hook about unconnected places becomes simply a 
record of a journey, which is boring. I dare say it’s all right 
if you’re a neo-Elizabethan yotmg man who has a hair- 
breadth escape or meets a very eccentric clergyman every 
five minutes, but I’m not. As it is. I’ve been here a month 
and haven’t the slightest idea how to begin to write the 
book. GoHancz told me before I left that it couldn’t be 
done, and he’s probably right. StiU the contracts are 
signed and my expenses paid, so I suppose it will get done. At 
present I am just amusing myself, with occasional twinges 
of uneasiness, like a small boy who knows he’s got an exam 
to-morrow, for which he has done no work whatsoever. 

I spent a very miserable first week here, for all the 
people I had introductions to were away. Reykjavik is the 
worst possible sort of provincial town as far as amusing 
oneself is concerned, and there was nothing to do but soak 
in the only hotel with a license; at ruinous expense. There 

108 



W. H. A. to E. M. A— No. 1 


is a would-be English band there with a leader looking 
Hke a stage gigolo, and real revolving coloured lights in the 
ballroom after ten. But as it is broad daylight aU night 
the effect is rather depressing. Gradually I began to meet 
people, so that my head is reeling with gossip that I know is 
libellous, and information that I suspect of being unreliable. 

I hear, for instance, that such and such a politician is 
either the first gentleman in Iceland or is suffering from 
persecution mania since he was laughed at by some 
children at the ski-club, that such and such a professor 
pawned his marriage lines the day before the wedding, 
that such and such a girl is a levis avis’, that the German 
consul has smuggled in arms in preparation for a Putsch, 
that the Icelanders cannot discipline their children, that 
England is the true home of spiritualism, and that the only 
good drinks are whisky and vermouth. 

My own personal impressions don’t go far yet. There is 
no architecture here and the pubUc statues axe mostly 
romanticised Galahad-Yikings. The King of Denmark has 
paid a visit and I watched him come out of the prime 
minister’s house accompanied by distinguished citizens. I 
know top-hats and frock coats don’t make people look 
their best, but on their appearance alone I wouldn’t have 
trusted one of them with the spoons. He went to see the 
Great Geysir, which refused to oblige, and the current 
rumour gives as the reason that out of national pride they 
fed it with local soap instead of the Sunlight brand to 
which it is accustomed. 

The other excitement has been a Swedish students’ week. 
They gave a concert, to which I went. They sangwellenough, 
but the songs were dull — ^none of the polyphonic kind 
which I hke. The concert opened oddly. One of the stu- 
dents on the platform put on white gloves and a yachting 
cap, and took hold of an enormous flag. Ab they began to 
sing what I presume was the Swedish National Anthem 

109 




r. H. A. to E. M. A.-No. 1 

as everyone stood up, he brought the flag smartly to the 
present. I’m sure it Tvas much too heavy for him. The song 
over he took oflf his gloves and his hat, stood the flag in the 
comer, and joined the rest of the choir. It all looked very 
pompous and silly, more what one would expect from the 
Nazis than from a sensible Scandinavian democracy. 

After the second song a bouquet was brought in for the 
conductor; I hoped that this was just to encourage him^ 
and that they would bring in a new and better one after 
each song till the platform was like a greenhouse, but I 
was disappointed. 

I’ve been to ThingveUir, the stock beauty spot, which 
is certainly very pretty, but the hotel is full of drunks 
every evening. A very beautiful one called Toppy asked 
me to ring her up when I got back. 

Last week I went down into the cotmtry and had a nice 
time riding, but I can’t tell you about that now as I must 
pack ready to set off to-morrow for the North. How I wish 
you were here to help me, as you know how I hate it. This 
hotel is all right, but not up to your standard of course. 
It’s a hostel for university students in the winter. The fur- 
niture is of that cosmopolitan modem sort you find in 
the waiting-rooms of all European air-ports. Snags — ^the 
food which is often cold and the bath which won’t work. 
The proprietor is a nice man who tells me that he is a 
practical idealist and that his children have perfect charac- 
ters. I’ll try and go on with this to-morrow. 

Hramsnef. July 15th 

A game of mnomy prevented me writing last night, but 
now there is an hour or so before the bus is due and I am 
tired of helping with the hay, which I have been doing 
since breakfast. 

One of the nice things about Iceland is its small size, so 
that everything is personal. A steam roller is called a 

110 




W. H. A. to E. Jkf. A. — No. 1 


Briett after a well-known feminist with deformed feet. I 
had a proof of this on Monday morning when I was going 
to catch the bns. A man I had never seen before stopped 
me in the street and said ‘There are some letters for yon’, 
took me along and unlocked the post office specially for 
my benefit. How he knew I was leaving town I don’t know. 
Among them were the proofs of my poems, so I can occupy 
odd moments by trying to put in logical punctuation, 
which is something I don’t understand. I can only think- 
of them as breathing indications. I hope you will approve 
of the dedication. They are due out in October, which is a 
pity, as they will be eclipsed by the posthumous volume of 
Housman which is due for then. 

I wonder very much what there’ll be in it. There was a 
nice quatrain gomg about the Oxford Senior Common 
Rooms before I left England which he is said to have 
woken up reciting to himself: 

When the bells jussle in the tower 
The hoUow night amid 
Then on my tongue the taste is sour 
Of all I ever did. 

I’ve been trying to find out something about modem 
Icelandic poetry. As far as I can make out there has been 
no break since the Romantic Revival, which got here via 
Denmark and Germany, i.e., no ‘modernist’ poetry to 
puzzle the old ladies. Technically it is of a very high stan- 
dard, rhyme, assonance, and alliteration are all expected. 
As a Latin example of an Icelandic verse structure I was 
given the following, which you can recite to any dirty- 
minded don you meet. 

Theodoras taxdavit 
Tempore non surrexit 
Violare voluit 
Virginem non potuit. 

Ill 




r. H. A. to E. M. A.-No. 1 


They seem to have preserved a passion for ingenuity 
helped by their damnably inflected language, since the 
days of the Scald’s, whose verse would have broken St. 
John Ervine right up. Even now they write palindrome 
verses which can be read forwards or backwards, like this: 

Falla timans voldug verk Daga aUa stendur sterk 
varla falleg saga. Studla riman snjalla 

Snjalla riman studla sterk Saga falleg varla verk 
Stendur alia daga. voldug timans falla. 

Sentiment: Art is long and life is short or Bfe is short and 
art is long. Or verses like this in which the second half is 
made up of the beheaded words of the first: 

Snuddar margur trassin Many a lazy idler lounges 

traudur And finds the day long; 

Treinist slangur daginn The wicked one rubs his red 
Nudda argur rassin raudur bottom 

reinist langur agmn. And finds discipline irksome 

Another peculiar thing about Icelandic verse is the per- 
sistence of a genuine poetic language. In the following, for 
instance, which is the ecjuivalent of a double entendre 
limerick like ‘The young people who firequent picture 
palaces’, the first word for girl is as ‘poetic’ as demoiselle. 

Yngissveinar fara d f joU 
Fiona sprund i leynum 
Stulfcur elska atlaf boll 
ast fangnar £ sveinum. 

The proper version is: 

Young men go to embrace girls in secret 
Girls love to go to the ball 
In love with the young men. 

But what has struck me most is that any average educated 
pemon one meets can turn out competent verse. When I 

112 




W. H. A. to E. M. A —No. 1 


was down in the South, I had an Icelandic student as 
companion; I gave him one of the ruthless rhymes: 

When baby’s cries grew hard to bear 
I popped him in the Frigidaire. 

I never would have done so if 
I’d known that he’d be frozen stiff. 

My wife said ‘George, I’m so unhappe. 

Our darliag’s now completely frappe.’ 

In twenty minutes he came back with this, which as far as 
I can make out is pretty literal. 

E grenjar kenja krakkinmnin 
Eg kasta honum i snj6skaflin 
Eg petta medal flj6tast finn 
Th4 frys a honum kjafturinn 
En sidan kveinar kerligin 
Ad krdknad hafi dnginn sinn. 

He also translated a serious poem of mine which I’m sorry 
to say I’ve lost but it soimded grand. I in return have been 
trying to teach them the Clerihew, and there are now, I 
hope, many little boys going about saying 

Jonathan Swift 
Never went up in a lift, 

Neither did Robinson Crusoe 
Do so. 

I recited to my present companion, Ragnar, who is a mine 
of information about songs and proverbs, a touching little 
cri du coeur made by a friend: 

I think that I would rather like 
To be the saddle of a bike 

only to find that the Icelandic equivalent in terms of 
horses already exists. 

We are staying at a little farm under a cliff, called 

H 113 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 1 

Hraensnef or Lava Nose, in Nordara, -wliicli is one of the 
great salmon fishing rivers, bought up of course and let 
to Harley Street surgeons and popular novelists. We 
started at eight o’clock yesterday morning. The buses are 
comfortable but the roads are not, and we hadn’t gone ten 
miles before some of the passengers started to be sick. The 
driver tells me that the Icelanders always are. We 
stumbled along round a spectacular fjord called Hvalf- 
jordur over a track that would have been rough going on 
foot, passing historical sites like the island firom which a 
pirate’s wife escaped her enemies by swimming to shore with 
her two children on her back, and the farm where a seven- 
teenth-century clergyman called Peterssen wrote some fam- 
ous passion hymns and died of leprosy, imtil we stopped for 
coffee at a little inn full of bad oil paintings and surroimded 
by bedraggled hens. In the last fifteen years or so there has 
grown up quite a school of Icelandic painters, and their 
work is to be found in all inns, schools, and public buildings. 
I’ve- seen some heads by a man called Kjarval which I 
liked, one or two other landscapes by various people, and 
a farmer’s own portrait of his mother; but Cezanne has 
done them no good. I suppose I should also say that we 
saw a pair of eagles. They looked far too heavy to fly. 

We got to Hredavatn — a little lake about a mile and a 
half away, where we intended to stop — about half-past 
two, but the inn was full so we came on here, which is 
much better situated. Behind is a great escarpment of rock 
and to the left a cone-shaped mountain called Beula which 
looks fine from this distance, but I am glad I haven’t got 
to chmb it. To the right are some small craters which look 
as if they had been made the day before yesterday, as they 
are as destitute of vegetation as the slag heap of an iron 
foundry, and are surrounded by a tiny lava field which 
stops suddenly in the middle of the morass, like jam spilt 
out of a howL 


114 




W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 1 

The sitting-rooms of Icelandic farms are all rather alike. 
Like English cottages they are crammed with furniture 
and knick-knacks; there are pictures on the walls, and a 
bowl of picture postcards and snapshots of the family on 
the table, and there is always a harmonium. Unfortunately 
the music is nearly always the same, a book of psalm tunes 
and a book of songs something like Gaudeamus, all rather 
pom po pom pom. Here, however, I’ve found ‘Moonlight in 
the Sahara’ but, alas, the vox hum an a won’t work. The 
family consist of the farmer and his wife, an unmarried and 
rather spoilt daughter, a very independent son of eleven 
in a fetching red shirt, a little boy of four, the child of a 
relation, and a boy who is helping with the harvest and 
looks seventeen but is only fourteen. They are very hos- 
pitable and friendly. 

Yesterday morning we spent riding, and to my great 
joy I got a really frisky horse who bucked and galloped as 
hard as one could wish. I got a scare once when we were 
going up the steep side of a valley and he started to slip. * 

In the afternoon we rode to Hredavatn and took a boat 
on the lake. It turned out a wonderful evening and we sat 
on an island and threw stones and waved at a girl in a 
bimgalow on the shore. It took us about an hour to catch 
Ragnar’s horse again, which tried to kick or bite when you 
came anywhere near it, but got home at last and spent the 
evening playing rummy, which I like because you can talk 
while you play. Svava, the daughter, had aU the luck, and 
I discover that I am a very bad loser. 

Ragnar is bothering me to come and pack, as the bus 
should be here any minute. 

Sandahrokur 

We caught the Icelandic Train Bleu all right. Two 
coaches crammed to capacity. How embarrassing it is to 
get into an already crowded bus when the passengers have 

115 




W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 1 


got to know each other. We felt like the Germans invading 
Belgium. But the atmosphere soon thawed; I got my 
travelling rug well over my knees, found that my cigarettes 
had come out of their packet into my pocket, and settled 
down as an accepted citizen of a temporary regime. 

In the front where the bunches of canvas flowers were, 
sat the elite, including an immense 'woman in a tiger skin 
coat. At the back where the bumps were at a maximum sat 
ourselves. In front of me a man with a convict’s face look- 
ing very green, and next to me a man looking like Thomas 
Hardy. Presently the singing began. Two of the com- 
monest tunes in Iceland are ones we know to Integer 
Vitae, and God save the King. Ragnar turned out to have 
a nice baritone, to know more songs, and to have more 
self-confidence than the others, so he led the singing while 
I fumbled for bass parts and occasionally got them. There 
was one long song about a person called Melakoff who I 
gather drank brandy and revived when the doctor began 
to dissect him. 

IVe got some gramophone records of more primitive 
local music, including an amazing one of a farmer and two 
children who yeU as if they were at a football match. These 
are much more interesting; some of the music reminds me 
of the sort of intoning you get at a Je'wish service, and 
"with a curious prolonging of the final note. 

The hills are all covered in mist. Road menders peered 
out of wayside tents, bridge sides suddenly shaved the bus. 
Loud cries of excitement told that someone had hit his 
head very hard on the roof at a bump. Thomas Hardy 
offered me some snuff and the bus roared when I sneezed. 
Now we were passing through a district of terminal 
moraines which looked too like the illustrations in a geo- 
graphy text book to be real. Here the last public execution 
took place in the early nineteenth century. Sweets were 
passed round. Sick streamed past the 'windows. 

116 




JF. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 1 

At four o’clock we reacted Blonduos, a one-horse sort 
of place, where we were to have lunch. Everyone clattered 
off to their respective lavatories and then down to the 
dining-room, where I was lucky to arrive early enough to 
get a real chair instead of a bench. The first course was rice 
and raisins and ginger. I cotdd have wept, I was so himgry. 
And the rest was scarcely better, enormous hunks of meat 
that might have been carved with a chopper smeared with 
half-cold gravy. No one can accuse the Icelander of being 
dainty. I watched a large man opposite leisurely stuffing 
down large pieces of tepid fat like the hero of a Sunday- 
school story. 

On again, grinding over a watershed, up test gradients. 
The view from the top is said to he one of the best in the 
is l and, but it wasn’t to-day. We came down to Vidamyri, 
where stands the oldest church in Iceland. Unfortunately 
we didn’t stop, and I only caught a glimpse of it, squat and 
turf covered, like a shaggy old sheep with a bell roimd its 
neck. Shortly afterwards we reached the crossroads where 
we were to change horses. There was a hurricane blowing 
and the temperature outside wasn’t far off jfireezing. As I 
paid the driver a ten krdnur note blew away and I had to 
chase it for a hundred yards. The bus from Akureyri had also 
arrived, and Ragnar was talking to one of his old schoob 
masters. I got into the primitive local bus and tried to get 
warm. Luckily it was only forty minutes or so to Sanda- 
krokur, and we got there at eight. It might have been 
built by Seventh Day Adventists who expected to go to 
heaven in a few months, so why bother anyway. I have no 
wish to see it again. The ion is dirty, and smells like a 
chicken run. The proprietor has a wen on his face and 
charges 6 kr. a day. In my room are two embroidered 
samplers — Blessed be the Lord and Blest are the pure in 
heart — and an inferior print of Iceland’s first fishing ship, 
dated 1876. 


117 



W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 1 


After supper I went to call on the local doctor, to whom 
I had an introduction. A very nice man with a face like a 
lizard, and a very keen diet crank. He has a hospital here 
and is very interested in cancer, the recent increase of 
which in Iceland he attributes to imported foods and too 
much sugar. He says the annual consiunption of sugar per 
head is 80 lb. Came back to an early bed. The fishing ship 
creaked aU night. 

Decided to get out of this place as soon as possible, but 
it was not as easy as it sounded. A milk cart was due to 
leave for Holar at 2. It left at 5.30. There were three of us 
on a seat made for two, Ragnar, myself, and a gigantic 
red-faced consumptive boy. We stopped every five minutes 
to dump empty cans by the road side. Both my feet were 
sound asleep by the time we reached Holar: a church, a 
farm, and a large white agricidtural school in the depths 
of a spectacxdar valley. The yotmg Danish headmaster of 
the school welcomed us, and we sat and listened to the 
wireless while supper was prepared. Someone apparently 
has tried to assassinate King Edward VIII. Nobody looked 
very interested. Supper was poor, and we played rummy 
till bedtime with the consumptive and another boy with a 
bandaged finger. I scored 270 in one hand and was very 
pleased with myself. 

Holar was the seat of a bishopric, and I spent the next 
morning in the church, which is as ugly as most protestant 
places of worship. The only relic of the past is the carved 
altar piece. I strummed on the harmonium, and balanced 
books and hassocks on the altar candlesticks, and stood on 
the altar in my socks and struck matches trying to photo- 
graph the carving. Mysterious violent figures rise out of 
the background slashing at prisoners without looking at 
them. Impassive horses survey another world than theirs. 
One of the thieves has his head thrown right back and on 

118 




r. H. A. to E, M. A.-No. 1 


liis forehead dances a bear holding a child. Serried figures, 
the Queen of Heaven with a tower, St. Peter with no back 
to his head etc., rise Hke a Greek Chorus, right and left of 
the main panel. After lunch we got a couple of rather 
obstinate horses and started up the valley intending to 
visit the glacier at its head. It was a brilliant sunny day 
and we didn’t get half way, but lay on the grass dozing 
and teasing a couple of bell spiders with a straw. 

Great excitement here because Goering’s brother and a • 
party are expected this evening. Rosenberg is coming too. 
The Nazis have a theory that Iceland is the cradle of the 
Germanic culture. Well, if they want a commimity Hke 
that of the sagas they are welcome to it. I love the sagas, 
but what a rotten society they describe, a society with only 
the gangster virtues. 

I saw Goering for a moment at breakfast next morning, 
and we exchanged politenesses. He didn’t look in the least 
like his brother, but rather academic. 

The milk cart back to Sandakrokur was worse than the 
first because we had to collect full cans. It took us four 
hours to go forty-two kilometres, and I had run out of 
cigarettes so just sulked into my waistcoat. 

We didn’t get away again till eight in the evening, but 
got through the afternoon somehow. We looked over the 
cheese works, a friendly place, not too efficient nor too clean, 
thank God. Two workmen were ragging about spinning 
each other round on a turntable. An old woman came in 
with a basket on her arm and begged for some cream. The 
doctor took me over his hospital and showed me the apple 
of his eye, his new X-ray apparatus. Most of the patients 
were very old women. A younger one who had had a 
cancerous breast removed the week before sat in a rocking 
chair and said she felt better. A surgeon’s fees are not 
princely. 100 kr. for the removal of a breast, 50 kr. for an 
appendicotany, 18 kr. for amputating a finger. General 

119 



W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 1 


practitioners get a small allowance from the state, but 
as they have to pay for their own dispensing, it must 
be hard to make ends meet. Chloroform is little used, 
and in the coimtry districts the midwife has to act as 
anaesthetist. 

The commonest complaints are T.B., cancer, and 
gastric ulcer. 

We went back to the doctor for dinner. He may be a 
food crank but he has a very good table. He made us try 
two Icelandic specialities, old shark and whale pickled in 
sour milk, eccentric but not absolutely inedible. I smoked, 
but a little guiltily, as on his shelves were a number of 
books on the evils of tobacco. Time passed quickly enough 
as I got down some of his surgical hooks to read. 

We got to our little farm Ulfstadur at last, about 11 
p.m., to find a hot meal waiting for us, and went straight 
to bed. 

Owing to some breakdown in the telephone system, the 
bus next morning had not been warned and was too full to 
take us, so we had to wait till the evening. Went riding in 
the morning, and pottered about in the afternoon. There 
was a lovely view from the lavatory. The bus came along 
about five and we didn’t get to Afcureyri till half-past 
eleven. Some of the passengers had bottles and were tight. 
Once we stopped for coffee and once we all had to get out, 
to cross a bridge the piles of which had sunk, making it 
unsafe. Ragnar was at school in Akureyri and was besieged 
by acquaintances the moment we arrived. It would be 
nice to be greeted like that at Victoria or Paddington. All 
the hotels were full and I was in rather a quandary, but a 
fairiaired artist friend of Ragnar’s, one of a family of 
sixteen, had a butcher brother-in-law who was away, and 
we went off to his house, one of the new concrete ones, and 
made ourselves a meal of eggs and tea at one o’clock in the 
morning, feeling excited like sham burglars. 

120 



fF. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 1 


Monday 

Went down to the Hotel Gnllfoss for breakfast and 
looked round Afcureyri, which is a much nicer town than 
Reylqavik. Unfortimately there is a fish factory to the 
north and to-day the wind is blowing fi:om the north. 
There is a boat in the harbour going to Greenland on 
a geological expedition, loading up horses and fodder. 
With its single narrow funnel, its tall masts, and its 
crow’s nest, it looks like an illustration out of a nine- 
teenth-century adventure story. I went up to the school 
to see its collection of Icelandic paintings. They may not 
he very wonderful, but at least they are of interest to the 
Icelanders. 

The artists are trying to amuse their fiiends, and their 
fiiends are not only artists. The pictures are not canned 
art firom a Paris store which the locals must take because 
there is no other. 

In the afternoon I had my hair cut and called on a 
lawyer, who gave me a whisky and cigar. We talked about 
capital punishment, beating, and boarding-schools. In the 
evening I went with a party of students to the only dance 
hall. The Blue Boy Band were deafening and never stopped 
playing for a second. Sweat poured off our faces. pity 
about Berg’s death,’ I roared. But the band assured us all 
that the music goes round and round. A few tables off 
were the Greenland expedition, some of them half-caste 
Danish Eskimos. The eskimo features seem dominant. I 
stood it for about an hour and then went to bed. 

Tuesday 

I worked all this morning and finished a poem on Ice- 
land at last, or rather it’s about the voyage out and better, 
I hope, than William Morris’s effort. 

The only other one I’ve done is about why people read 
detective stories. Here it is. 


121 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 1 


Detective Story 

For who is ever quite without his landscape. 

The straggling village street, the house in trees. 

All near the church, or else the gloomy town house. 

The one with the Corinthian pillars, or 
The tiny workmanlike flat: in any case 
A home, the centre where the three or four things 
That happen to a man do happen? Yes, 

Who cannot draw the map of his life, shade in 
The little station where he meets his loves 
And says good-bye continually, and mark the spot 
Where the body of his happiness was first discovered? 

An unknown tramp ? A rich man ? An enigma always 
And with a buried past — ^but when the truth. 

The truth about our happiness comes out 
How much it owed to blackmail and philandering. 

The rest’s traditional. All goes to plan: 

The feud between the local common sense 
And that exasperating brilliant intuition 
That’s always on the spot by chance before us; 

All goes to plan, both lying and confession, 

Down to the thrilling final chase, the kill. 

Yet on the last page just a lingering doubt 
That verdict, was it just? The judge’s nerves. 

That clue, that protestation from the gallows, 

And our own smile . • . why yes . • . 

But time is always killed. Someone must pay for 
Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself. 

After lunch I went to bathe in what must be one of the 
most northerly open-air swimming baths in the world. It 

122 



W. H. A. to E. ilf. A. — No. 1 

is fed from a hot spring and as the day was sunny and 
windless most attractive. The standard of swimming here 
is high and there was one first-class diver. I cannot con- 
ceive of anything else I would rather be able to do well. 
It’s such a marvellous way of showing off. 

Have just heard for the first time of the civil war in 
Spain. Borrowed two volumes of caricatures, which are 
really my favourite kind of picture, and spent a very 
happy evening with Goya and Daumier and Max Beer- 
bohm, only slightly marred by the consciousness of a sore 
throat, which means one of my foul colds to-morrow. 

I’U get this off . in the post to-morrow morning, as I 
shan’t be able to get another one posted for several days, I 
expect, but I’ll write something every day and get it 
posted when I can. 

W. 


123 




Chapter X 

Eclogue from Iceland 

Scene: The Amarvatn Heath. Craven, Ryan, and the 
ghost of Grettir. Voice from Europe, 

R. T his is the place, Craven, the end of onr way; 

Hobble the horses, we have had a long day. 

C. The lake is said to he full of trout; 

A pity the mist shuts the glacier out. 

R. There used to he swans hut the frost last year 
Has brought their numbers down round here. 

C. I like this place. My personal choice 
Is always to avoid the public voice. 

R. You are quite right. Craven. F or people like us 
This is an enviable terminus. 

C, To stay here a week like a placid brute 

To explore the country, to fish and shoot. 

R. That would be life, not having to shave. 

Clocking in as a wage-slave. 

C. That would be life, Ryan, that would be life. 

Without kowtowing to boss or wife. 

R. And beside this cold and silicate stream 

To sleep in sheepskin, never dream, 

C. Never dream of the empty church, 

R, Nor ofwaiting in a familiar porch 

With the broken beUpuU, but the name 
Above the door is not the same. 

‘ 124 



Eclogue from Iceland 

C. And never wake to the maid’s knock 

R. Nor to the sonr alarum clocks 

C. Miss the faces fed at eight 

And the daily paper on your plate, 

R. And miss the pile of letters from 

Forgotten Bill and ailing Tom, 

C, Stop a moment. I think I hear 
Someone walking over there. 

R. Hell, Craven. Who could it be ? 

Except the echo of you and me. 

C. There is someone there just out of sight — 

Will probably camp here to-night. 

R. It is a damn bore anyhow. 

Look. There he is coming now. 

The mist makes him look so big 
And he is limping in one leg. 

G. Good evening, strangers. So you too 

Are on the run? I welcome you. 

I am Grettir Asmimdson, 

Dead many years. My day is done. 

But you whose day is sputtering yet — 

I forget. . . . What did I say? 

We forget when we are dead 
The blue and red, the grey and gay. 

Your day spits with a damp wick^ 

Will fizzle out if you’re not quick. 

Men have been chilled to death who kissed 
Wives of mist, forgetting their own 
Kind who live out of the wind. 

My memory goes, goes — TeU me 
Are there men now whose compass leads 
Them always down forbidden roads? 
Greedy young men who take their pick 
Of what they want but have no luck; 

Who leap the toothed and dour crevasse 

125 


Eclogue from Iceland 

Of death on a sardonic phrase? 

You -with crowsfeet round your eyes. 

How are things where you come from? 

C. Things are had. There is no room 

To move at ease, to stretch or breed — 

G. An d you with the burglar’s imderUp, 

In your land do things stand well ? 

R. In my land nothing stands at all 

But some fly high and some lie low. 

G. Too many people. My memory will go, 

Lose itself in the hordes of modern people. 

Memory is words; we remember what others 
Say and record of ourselves — stones with the runes. 
Too many people — sandstorm over the words. 

Is your land also an island? 

There is only hope for people who Uve upon islands 
Where the Lowest Common labels will not stick 
And the tmpoUuted hills will hold your echo. 

R. I come from an island, Ireland, a nation 

Built upon violence and morose vendettas. 

My diehard countrymen, like drayhorses. 

Drag their ruin behind them. 

Shooting straight in the cause of crooked thinking 
Their greed is sugared with pretence of public 
spirit. 

From all which I am an exile. 

C. Yes, we are exiles. 

Gad the world for comfort. 

This Easter I was in Spain, before the Civil War, 
Gobbling the tripper’s treats, the local colour. 
Storks over Avila, the coffee-coloured waters of 
Ronda, 

The <»medy of the bootblacks in the cafSs, 

The le^ess beggars in the corridors of the trains. 
Dominoes on marble tables, the architecture 
126 



Eclogue from Iceland 


Moorish mudejar churriguerresque, 

The bullfight — ^the banderillas like Christmas 
candles. 

And the scrawled hammer and sickle: 

It was all copy — ^impenetrable surface. 

I did not look for the sneer beneath the surface. 
Why should I trouble, an addict to oblivion. 
Running away from the gods of my own hearth 
With no intention of finding gods elsewhere? 

R. And so we came to Iceland — 

C. Our latest j oyride. 

G. And what have you found in Iceland ? 

C. What have we found? More copy, more surface. 

Vignettes as they call them, dead flowers in an 
album — 

The harmoniums in the farms, the fine-bread and 
pancakes 

The pot of ivy trained across the window. 
Children in gumboots, girls in black berets. 

R. And dead craters and angled crags. 

G. The crags which saw me j ockey doom for twenty 

Years from one cold hide-out to another; 

The last of the saga heroes 

Who had not the wisdom of Njal or the beauty of 
Gunnar, 

I was the doomed tough, disaster kept me witty; 
Being bom the surly jack, the ne’er-do-well, the 
loiterer. 

Hard blows exalted me. 

When the man of will and muscle achieves the 
curule chair 

He tuarns to a bully; better is his lot as outlaw, 

A wad of dried fish in his belt, a snatch of bil- 
berries 

And riding the sullen landscape far from friends 

127 




Eclogue from Iceland 


Tkrougii the jungle of lava, dales of frozen fancy. 
Fording the gletcher, ducking the hard hail, 

And across the easy pastures, never stopping 
To rest among the celandines and hogcotton. 

Under a curse I would see eyes in the night. 

Always had to move on; craving company 
In the end I lived on an island with two others. 

To fetch fire I swam the crinkled fjord. 

The crags were alive with ravens whose low croak 
Told my ears what filtered in my veins — ^ 

The sense of doom. I wore it gracefully, 

The fatal clarity that would not budge 
But without false pride in martyrdom. For I, 

Joker and dressy, held no mystic’s pose. 

Not wishing to die preferred the daily goods 
The horse-fight, women’s thighs, a joint of meat. 

C. But this dyspeptic age of ingrown cynics 

Wakes in the morning with a coated tongue 
And whets itself laboriously to labour 
And wears a blas6 face in the face of death. 

Who risk their lives neither to fill their bellies 
Nor to avenge an affront nor grab a prize. 

But out of bravado or to divert ennui 
Driving fast cars and climbing foreign moimtains. 
Outside the delicatessen shop the hero 
With his ribbons and his empty pinned-up sleeve 
Cadges for money while with turned-up collars 
His comrades blow through brass the Londonderry 
Air 

And silken legs and swinging buttocks advertise 
The sale of little cardboard flags on pins. 

G. Us too they sold 

The women and the men with many sheep. 

Graft and aggression, legal prevarication 
Drove out the best of us, 

128 



Eclogue from Iceland 

Secmred long life to only the sly and the dumb 
To those who would not say what they really 
thought 

But got their ends through pretended indifference 
And through the sweat and blood of thralls and 
hacks. 

Cheating the poor men of their share of drift 
The whale on Kaldbak in the starving winter. 

R. And so to-day at Grimsby men whose Hves 

Are warped in Arctic trawlers load and unload 
The shining tons of fish to keep the lords 
Of the market happy with cigars and cars. 

C. What is that music in the air — 

Organ-music coming from far? 

R. Honeyed music — ^it sounds to me 

Like the Wurlitzer in the Gaiety. 

G. I do not hear anything at all. 

C. Imagine the pmrple light on the stage, 

R. The melting moment of a stinted age, 

C. The pause before the film again 
Bursts in a shower of golden rain. 

G. I do not hear an3rthmg at all. 

C. We shall be back there soon, to stand in queues 

For entertainment and to work at desks. 

To browse round counters of dead books, to pore 
On picture catalogues and Soho menus. 

To preen omrselves on the reinterpretation 
Of the words of obsolete interpreters. 

Collate, delete, their faded lives like texts. 

Admire Flaubert, Cezanne — ^the tortured artists — 
And leaning forward to knock out our pipes 
Into the fire protest that art is good 
And gives a meaning and a slant to life. 

G. The dark is falling. Soon the air 

Will stare with eyes, the stubborn ghost 

129 


I 




Eclogue from Iceland 

Wlio cursed me when I threw him. Must 
The ban go on forever? I, 

A ghost myself, have no claim now to die. 

R. Now I hear the music again — 

Strauss and roses — ^hear it plain. 

The sweet confetti of music falls 
From the high Corinthian capitals. 

C. Her head upon his shoulder lies. . . . 

Blend to the marrow as the music dies. 

G. Brought up to the rough-house we took offence 
quickly 

Were sticklers for pride, paid for it as outlaws — 

C. like Cavalcanti, whose hot blood lost him Florence 

R. Or the Wild Geese of Ireland in Mid-Europe. 

Let us thank God for valour in abstraction 
For those who go their own way, will not kiss 
The arse of law and order nor compound 
For physical comfort at the price of pride: 

Soldiers of fortune, renegade artists, rebels and 
sharpers 

Whose speech not cramped to Yea and Nay ex- 
plodes 

In crimson oaths like peonies, who brag 
Because they prefer to taunt the mask of God, 

Bid him unmask and die in the living lightning. 
What is that voice maundering, meandering? 

V oiGE. Blues . . . blues . . . high heels and manicured hands 
Always self-conscious of the vanity bag 
And puritan painted lips that abnegate desire 
And say ‘we do not care’ . . . ‘we do not care’ — 

I don’t care always in the air 
Give my hips a shake always on the make 
Always on the mend coming around the bend 
Always on the dance with an eye to the main 
Chance, always taking the floor again — 

isa 



Eclogue from Iceland 

C. There was Tchekov, 

TTfq haemorrliages drove him out of Moscow, 

The life he loved, not bom to it, who thought 
That when the windows blurred with smoke and 
talk 

So that no one could see out, then conversely 
The giants of frost and satans of the peasant 
Coidd not look in, impose the evil eye. 

R. There was MacKenna 

Spent twenty years translating Greek philosophy, 
111 and tormented, unwilling to break contract, 

A brilliant talker who left 

The salon for the solo flight of Mind. 

G. There was Onund Treefoot 

Came late and lame to Iceland, made his way 
Even though the land was bad and the neighbours 
jealous. 

C. There was that dancer 

Who danced the war, then falling into coma 
Went with himched shoulders through the ivory 
gate. 

R. There was ConnoUy, 

Vilified now by the gangs of Catholic Action. 

G. There was Egil, 

Hero and miser, who when dying blind 
Would have thrown his money among the crowd 
to hear 

The whole world scuffle for his hoarded gold. 

C. And there were many 

Whose common sense or sense of hxunour or mere 
Desire for self assertion won them through 

R. But not to happiness. Though at intervals 

They paused in sunlight for a moment’s fusion 
With friends or nature till the cynical wind 
Blew the trees pale — 


131 



Voice. 


Eclogue from Iceland 


Blues, blues, sit back, relax. 

Let your self-pity swell with the music and clutch 
Your tiny lavendered fetishes. Who cares 
If floods depoptdate China? I don’t care 
Always in the air sitting among the stars 
Among the electric signs among the imported 
wines 

Always on the spree climbing the forbidden tree 
Tossing the peel of the apple over my shoulder 
To see it form the initials of a new intrigue, 

&. Runes and runes which no one could decode, 

R. Wrong numbers on the ’phone — she never 
answered. 

C, And from the romantic grill (Spanish baroque) 

Only the eyes looked out which I see now. 

G. You see them now? 

C. But seen before as well. 

G. And many times to come, be sure of that. 

R. I know them too 

These eyes which hang in the northern mist, the 
brute 

Stare of stupidity and hate, the most 
Primitive and false of oracles. 

C. The eyes 

That glide like snakes behind a thousand masks — 
All human faces fit them, here or here: 

Dictator, bullying schoolboy, or common lout. 
Acquisitive women, financiers, invalids. 

Axe capable all of that compelling stare. 

Stare which betrays the cosmic purposelessness 
The nightmare noise of the scythe upon the hone. 
Time sharpening his blade among high rocks alone. 
R. The face that fate hangs as a figurehead 

Above the truncheon or the nickelled death. 

G. I won the fall. Though cursed for it, I won. 

132 



Eclogue from Iceland 

C. Which is why we honour you who working from 

The common premisses did not end with many 
In the blind alley where the trek began. 

G. Though the open road is hard with frost and dark. 
Voice. Hot towels for the men, mud packs for the women 
Will smooth the puckered minutes of your lives. 

I offer you each a private window, a view 
(The leper window reveals a church of lepers). 

R, Do you believe him ? 

C. I don’t know. 

Do you believe him? 

G. No. 

You cannot argue with the eyes or voice; 

Argument will frustrate you till you die 
But go your own way, give the voice the lie, 
Outstare the inhuTYian eyes. That is the way. 

Go back to where you came from and do not keep 
Crossing the road to escape them, do not avoid the 
ambush. 

Take sly detours, but ride the pass direct. 

C. But the points of axes shine from the scrub, the 

odds 

Are dead against us. There are the lures of women 

Who, half alive, invite to a fuller life 

And never loving would be loved by others. 

R. Who fortify themselves in pasteboard castles 

And plant their beds with the cast-out toys of 
children. 

Dead pines with tinsel fruits, nursery beliefs. 

And South Sea Island trinkets. Watch their years 
The permutations of lapels and gussets. 

Of stuffs — georgette or velvet or corduroy — 

Of hats and eye-veils, of shoes, lizard or suede, 

Of bracelets, milk or coral, of zip bags, 

Of compacts, lipstick, eyeshade, and coiffures 

133 



Eclogue from Iceland 


All tributary to tie 'wished ensemble. 

The carriage of body that belies the soul. 

C. And there are the men who appear to be men of 

sense, 

Good company and dependable in a crisis. 

Who yet are ready to plug you as you drink 
like dogs who bite firom fear; for fear of germs 
Putting on stamps by licking the second finger. 

For fear of opinion overtipping in bars. 

For fear of thought studying stupefaction. 

It is the world which these have made where dead 
Greek words sprout out in tin on sallow walls — 
Qinic or polytechnic — a world of slums 
Where any day now may see the Gadarene swine 
Rush down the gullets of the London tubes 
When the enemy, x or y, let loose their gas. 

G. My friends, hounded like me, I tell you still 

Go back to where you belong. I could have fled 
To the Hebrides or Orkney, been rich and famous. 
Preferred to assert my rights in my own country. 
Mine which were hers for every country stands 
By the sanctity of the individual wiU. 

R. Yes, he is right. 

C, But we have not his strength, 

R. Could only abase ourselves before the wall 

Of shouting flesh. 

Could only offer our humble 
Deaths to the unknown god, unknown but wor- 
shipped. 

Whose voice calls in the sirens of destroyers. 

G. Minute your gesture but it must be made — 

Your hazard, your act of defiance and hymn of 
hate. 

Hatred of hatred, assertion of human values. 
Which is now your only duty. 

lU 



Eclogue from Iceland ■ 

C. Is it otur only duty? 

G. Yes, my friends. 

Wiat did you say? The night falls now and I 
Must beat the dales to chase my remembered acts. 
Yes, my fiiends, it is your only duty. 

-And, it may be added, it is your only chance. 

L.M. 


135 



Chapter XI 

W. H. A. to E. M. A.-No. 2 


Wednesday 


Ahirefyri. 


I was right. My throat is much worse, like a lime kiln. 

I don’t know whether this stage is the most unpleasant or 
the next, when I shall cry for two days. Most disfiguring 
and emharrassing and I’ve only got one handkerchief. I 
suppose my It is really repenting its sins, which it appa- 
rently has to do about every six mouths, but I wish it 
wouldn’t. I caught the nine o’clock bus to Myvatn, full 0/ 
Nazis who talked incessantly about Die Schonheit des 
Islands, and the Aryan qualities of the stock ‘Die Kinder 
sind so reizend: schone blonde Haare und hlaue Augen. 
Ein echt Germanischer Typus.’ I expect this isn’t gram- 
matical, but that’s what it sounded like. Fm glad to say 
that as they made this last remark we passed a pair of kids 
on the road who were as black as night. In the comer was 
a Danish ornithologist with a pursed little mouth, like a 
bank derk who does a little local preaching in his spare 
time, who answered a Danish girl next to him in explosive 
monosyUahles as if he were unused to talking and couldn’t 
moderate his voice. Two more hikers got in, Austrians this 
time, and then a German ornithologist with a guide who 
looked a cross between Freud and Bernard Shaw. For the 

136 



JF. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 

first time I have struck a dud bus. It developed a choke in 
the petrol feed and got slower and slower. We got to the 
Godafoss and I had some coflfee while the Ger m a n s went 
to admire. One w^aterfall is extraordinarily like another. 
We didn’t get to Myvatn till three o’clock and I was 
hungry and seedy and cross. The lake is surrounded by 
little craters like candle snuflfers and most attractive. Hay 
was being made everywhere and the haymakers were using 
aluminium rakes, which I have never seen before. I had to • 
make arrangements for an old German and his beautiful 
daughter who knew no English or Icelandic, who wanted to 
go to Dettifoss but didn’t know if they dare. Papa was 
afraid it was too much for daughter, and daughter that it 
was too much for Papa, especially the horses. As he can’t 
have weighed a poimd under 16 stone, it is the horses who 
should worry. Afterwards I lay in the sun watching the 
hay being made and taking photographs. If I can get them 
developed in time, and any of them come out, I’ll send 
you some. It’s a pity I am so impatient and careless, as any 
ordinary person could learn all the technique of photo- 
graphy in a week. It is the democratic art, i.e. technical 
s kill is practically eliminated — the more fool-proof cameras 
become with focusing and exposure gadgets the better — 
and artistic quality depends only on choice of subject. 
There is no place for the professional still photographer, 
and his work is always awful. The only decent photo- 
graphs are scientific ones and amateur snapshots, only you 
want a lot of the latter to make an effect. A single still is 
never very interesting by itself. We started back about 
five, more crowded than ever, and the petrol stoppage 
much worse. We stopped to fill up and I was very annoyed 
because I was the wrong side of the bus to take the far- 
mer’s girl working the pump, which would have made a 
beautiful Eisensteiu sort of shot. The bus got weaker and 
weaker and I thought we were going to run backwards 

137 



W. H. A, to E. M. A.— No. 2 


down a TiiH. A lot of passengers got off at a school, thank 
goodness, and we tottered home, hack-firing all the way, 
with a magnificent sunset over the mountains, and got in 
ahout ten. I went to eat and then ran into some drunk 
Norwegian sailors. An Icelandic acquaintance of theirs 
passed and greeted one by slapping him on the bottom, 
which started a furious argument conducted entirely in 
’Rnglish, something like this. 

. — Why did you do that ? 

— Why shouldn’t I ? 

— Don’t you know it’s an insult to slap a man on his 
arse? 

— No, it isn’t. 

— Yes, it is. 

— No it isn’t. It’s an Icelandic custom. 

— Oh no, it isn’t. 

— How do you know? 

— How do I know. Everybody knows. 

— No, they don’t. 

— I tell you it’s an insult to slap a chap’s arse. 

How can you tel me when you don’t know about 

Iceland? 

— If you don’t know that, you’re goddam uneducated. 

— How should I know that when I know it isn’t. 

(Two officers stroll up and stand by. The crowd 
begins to disperse.) 

— Well, be more careful, next time. Mister, see. 

— Same to you. 

Thursday 

Left at 8 a.m. for the east. The first part of the way 
was the same as yesterday. A couple were drawing nets 
out of a laTcft like a scene in the New Testament. At Goda- 
foss one of the real professional English travellers got in, 
something I shall never be, handsome, sunburnt, reserved, 

138 



W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


speaking fluent Icelandic. Got to Husavik for lunch. A beau- 
tiful bay and much sun. On the pier herring gutting was in 
fidl swing; great beefy women standing up to their an k les 
in blood and slime, giving free demonstrations of manual 
dexterity. My cold has rolled over into the next stage and I 
am beginning to weep. After Husavik the road branched off 
into the desert and there were still large patches of snow on 
the stones, the remains of a particularly severe winter, 
looking as if a small boy had got loose with the whitewash. 
I amused myself by identifying the pictures. There was 
Australia, and there was Italy, and that one surely was 
meant to be Arthur Balfour. We crossed an estuary plain 
and stopped to look at Ausbyrgi, a vaulted horseshoe- 
shaped ravine about two miles long, said to have been 
made by Odin’s horse Sleipnir when he slipped. Ragnar 
pointed out a house to me where lived a painter who has a 
platonic passion for the Dettifoss and spends his days 
painting it. 

After Asbyrgi the condition of the road defies descrip- 
tion. Two ruts full of stones. Thank God there are only 
four of us in the bus. We can just manage about 5 m.p.h., 
first through a sort of scrub like the horrible country 
where O.T.C. field days are always held, then through 
absolute desert, sand and rocks, Hke the uninteresting and 
useless debris of an orgy. My cold keeps boiling over like a 
geysir. Hours pass. The lights are lovely. Now we are 
worming like a beetle through sandh il ls, sandhills of every 
shape, the pincushion, the carrot, the breaking wave. We 
sit swaying hke sacks. Nobody speaks. About ten we get 
to Grimstadur, the farm where we are stopping the night. 
A bag of lime has burst in the luggage compartment and 
percolated into my pack. I watched the farmer’s family 
crowding round him as he stood against a wall in the dusk 
and read the newspaper we had brought him. We had 
supper and tumbled into bed. 

139 


W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


Friday 

Lovely weather still, but my cold is still streaming so 
that I can’t look anybody in the face. The country is a 
wide flat plain spotted with steep little hills and ridges. 
Herdubreid, looking with its glacier on the top like a large 
iced cake, stands up ahead of us, and far in the distance 
you can catch a glimpse of the VatnajokuU, the big icefield 
in the south. The road is better now and we get along quite 
quickly. We stop for a moment at the next large farm, 
Morduradalur, which is renowned for its home-made ale 
and a drunken clergyman. The country clergy here are all 
farmers as well, which brings them in touch with their 
parishioners, but perhaps rather secularises them. But I 
fancy that religion has never been very enthusiastic in Ice- 
land. The church organisation certainly must have been 
the one thing which civilised the social structure of the 
settlers, but I can’t picture Iceland producing St. Francis 
or St. Theresa. 

I foimd a nice little story in the Faroe saga. 

Thora asked him what teaching his foster-father had 
given him on Holy Writ. Sigmund said he had learnt his 
paternoster and creed. Thora said — I would like to hear 
it! On which he sang his paternoster, as she thought, pretty 
well. But Sigmimd’s creed ran thus — 

Given to us are angels good. 

Without them go I ne’er a foot; 

Where’er I am, where’er I fare 
Five angels follow everywhere. 

Paltering prayer, if so I be. 

To Christ they bear them presently: 

Psalms, too, seven can I sing — 

Have mercy on me, God my King. 

‘At this moment Thrand comes into the room and asks 
what they are talking about. Thora answers and says her 

140 



r. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


son has been rehearsing the Christian knowledge he had 
taught him. But the creed seems to be wrong! ‘^Ah!” said 
Thrand, ‘‘Christ, you know, had twelve disciples or more^ 
and each of them had his own credo. Now I have my 
credo, and you have the credo you have been taught; 
there are many credos, and they may be right without 
being exactly the same.” And with that the conversation 
ended/ 

We crossed the watershed and came down to Skjoldolfs- • 
stadur for a not very good lunch. Sweet soup, which I will 
not eat, and hot smoked mutton, which I can only just get 
down. Then on to Egilsstadur for tea where I say good-bye 
to Ragnar and get off. Egilsstadur is one of the largest 
farms in Iceland and the first place where I have got 
really good food. It has a private cemetery on a little hill, 
surrounded by birch trees, but private cemeteries aren’t 
allowed any more. I went and looked at a fine bull, which 
looked absurdly like a fiilm director I know called Arthur 
Elton, and then found the lavatory, which opens into a 
lower bam, giving such an updraught that the paper 
flies up instead of down and I had to chase it like a 
moth. 

In the bus to-day I had a bright idea about this travel 
book. I brought a Byron with me to Iceland, and I sud- 
denly thought I might write him a chatty letter in light 
verse about anything I could think of, Europe, literature, 
myself. He’s the right person I think, because he was a 
townee, a European, and disliked Wordsworth and that 
kind of approach to nature, and I find that very S3nmpa- 
thetic. This letter in itself will have very little to do with 
Iceland, but will be rather a description of an effect of 
travelling in distant places which is to make one reflect 
on one’s past and one’s culture from the outside- But it 
win form a central thread on which I shaU hang other 
letters to different people more directly about Iceland. 

141 




W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


Who the people mil be I haven’t the slightest idea yet, 
but I must choose them, so that each letter deals mth its 
subject in a different and significant way* The trouble 
about travel books as a rule, even the most exciting ones, 
is that the actual events are all extremely like each 
other — ^meals — sleeping accommodation — ^fleas — dangers, 
etc, and the repetition becomes boring. The usual alter- 
native, which is essays on life prompted by something 
seen, the kind of thing Lawrence and Aldous Huxley 
do, I am neither clever enough nor sensitive enough to 
manage. 

I hope my idea will work, for at the moment I am 
rather pleased with it, I attribute it entirely to my cold. 
It is a curious fact how often pain or slight illness stimu- 
lates the imagination. The best poem I have written this 
year was written immediately after having a wisdom 
tooth out. 

Saturday 

The weather has broken at last and it is cold and pouring 
wet. I consoled myself with the harmonium. There is more 
music here than usual, and my rendering of the Air on the 
G string was very moving, but I came to grief on a gavotte 
or a trumpet suite. One of the more curious jobs in this 
world must be inventing attractive names for harmonium 
stops, particularly for the tremolo. In this coimtry I have 
seen it called: Vox humana — ^Aeolean harp — ^V ox seraphi- 
cum — ^V ox celeste and Cor angelicus. 

Went for a short walk in the afternoon to the bridge 
over the half -lake, half-river which fills this valley. I was 
thinking about a picture of the seven ages of man I saw in 
some book or other. A girl playing a flute to a yoimg man, 
two infants wrestling in a meadow, and an old man 
staggering to a grave, you know the kind of thing. After 
tea the thoughts developed into a poem. 

142 



W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


0 wLo can ever praise enough 
The world of his belief? 

Harum-scarum childhood plays 
In the meadows near his home; 

In his woods love knows no wrong; 

Travellers ride their placid ways; 

In the cool shade of the tomb 
Age’s trusting footfalls ring, 

0 who can paint the vivid tree 
And grass of fantasy? 

But to create it and to guard 
Shall be his whole reward. 

He shall watch and he shall weep. 

All his father’s love deny, 

To his mother’s womb beiost. 

Eight nights with a wanton sleep, 

But upon the ninth shall be 
Bride and victim to a ghost. 

And in the pit of terror thrown 
Shall bear the wrath alone. 

A rich tradesman and family from Reykjavik have 
arrived. Unpleasant. Smug with money and no manners. 
The children keep whispering. 

Sunday 

StiH wet, but my cold is much better. Worked at the 
Byron letter in the morning and after lunch, thank good- 
ness, the rich people went away. I asked for a horse and 
did I get one! The farmer gave me his own, which is the 
prize race horse of East Iceland. He came with me and we 
had a marvellous ride. I didn’t start too well, as when I 
mounted in a confined courtyard with a lot of other horses 
near, I clucked reassuringly at him, which sent him pranc- 
ing roimd, scattering people and horses in all directions. I 

143 


W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


was rather frightened, but got on all right after that. The 
moment we got on the road, we set off at fall gallop, and 
on the last stretch home I gave him his head and it was 
more exciting than a really fast car. The farmer said, 
^You’ve ridden a lot in England, I expect.’ I thought of 
my first experience at Laugavatn a month ago, and how 
I shocked an English girl by yelling for help, I thought of 
the day at ThingveUir when I fell right over the horse’s 
neck when getting on in full view of a party of picnickers. 
This was my triumph. I was a real he-man after all. Still, 
Ronald Firbank was a good horseman. And what about 
those Scythians, 

Spent the evening playing rummy with the farmer’s 
children, a girl of fourteen with an extravagant squint, 
and two boys of twelve and eight, all charming. I hope 
to go up to the vaUey to Hallormastadur to-morrow. 

Monday 

Arrived here safely this afternoon. This place is a school 
in the winter to teach girls weaving and cooking. The 
headmistress is the image of Queen Victoria and rather 
formidable, but I think she will thaw. 

Staying here is a Scotch girl, an English lecturer at one 
of our provincial universities, and a great Icelandophil. 

^ She thinks them like the Greeks. Terribly enthusiastic, 
rushing at life like a terrier. I wonder if she reafly enjoys 
herself as much as she protests. I can imagine her in a siege 
saying at dinner, ‘What? Fried rats? Goody. How awfully 
exciting.’ But she is intelligent and extremely good-hearted. 

Tuesday 

I fotmd an excellent collection of German songs and 
spent the morning playing them. Really, they choose 
funny things to cheer themselves up with. How about this 
for a soldier’s song? 


144 



W. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


Die bange Nacbt ist nmi herum 
Wir reiten still, vnr reiten stu mm 
Wir reiten ins Verderben, 

I found a nice nursery song from Saxony: 

Hermann, fla larman 
Fla pipen, fla trummen 
Der Kaiser will kummen 
Mit Hammer und Stangen 
Will Hermann uphangen. 

It’s a great pleasure to think that all the best nursery 
poetry shocks the Neo-Hygienic-child-lover. There’s an 
Icelandic lullaby for instance: 

Sofur thu svind thitt 
Svartur i augum 
Far i fulan pytt 
Fullan af draugum 

which means, I think: 

Sleep, you black-eyed pig. 

Fall into a deep pit full of ghosts. 

I also found a magnificent Dance of Death, which I 
expect you know, but I had never seen before, and which 
seems very topical. I like the grammar lesson in the last 
line: 

Der Tod reit’ oft als General 
Beim Trommel und Kanonschall. 

Er gibt Parol, du musst ihm nach 
Ins Bivouac bis zum letzen Tag. 

Als klapperdiirrer Musikant 

Zieht er durch Deutschland imd welsche Land 

Und wenn er geigt, tanzt alles geschwind, 

Der Mann, das Weib, der Bursch, das Kind. 

145 


K 


W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 

The book belongs to a German lady who married an 
Icelander, solely, as far as I can see, in order to have a 
child, as she left him immediately after, and now won’t 
go back to Germany. She had a magazine from the Race 
Bureau oftheN.S.D.P. which was very funny. Boy-scout 
yoimg Aryans striding along with arms swinging past fairy- 
story negroes and Jews. 

In the afternoon we rode over the lake to Brekka, where 
the local doctor lives, and had tea. A romantic evening 
sky over the lake but unfortunately no romance. 

Wednesday 

Still fine but beginning to cloud over, and we shall have 
rain before nightfall. I have just blistered both my hands 
by helping the busman to pump up a tyre with a dud 
pump, which is annoying, as I shan’t be able to ride for 
several days. The only other people staying here are a 
couple of Dutch schoolmarms, intelligent, well dressed, and 
attractive, a great contrast to the English variety. They 
have seen the PfeflFermlihle, I’m glad to say, and were very 
impressed. By the way, I’ve finished that sketch with the 
goose for Therfese. I haven’t got a copy as it’s appearing in 
the next volume of New Writings but I’ll send you a proof 
copy as soon as it comes. I hope it will suit her. 

R^kjavih^ Sunday, August 9th 

It’s a very long time since I added anything to this 
letter, but I have been absorbed in the Byron letter. I’ve 
finished a draft of the first canto and bits of the second 
and third. My trouble is that the excitement of doing a 
kind of thing I’ve never tried to do before keeps making 
me think it’s better and funnier than it is, which is the 
reverse of what I usually find. 

I drove over last Sunday from Egilsstadur in the farmer’s 
car to Seydisf jordur, where there was a sport-fest. The far- 

146 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


mer and his wife have been very good to me. He is a power 
in the new farmers’ party, which represents the richer ones, 
who want to lower wages and increase the price of meat. 
For the J&rst time in my life I have become a wireless fan. 
I suppose it is due to being alone in a foreign country. 
I listen to everything from England, even the cricket 
matches and the Stock Exchange quotations. I wish I 
knew how things were really going in Spain. Do write and 
tell me if you know anything authentic. 

There was still a lot of snow on the hills roxmd Seydis- 
fjordur, really deep drifts in places and snow bridges over 
the streams. The sport-fest was a primitive affair. Some 
part singing by middle-aged men in blue suits with brass 
buttons which was barely audible, male and female high 
jumping, and a swimming race in a shallow and very dirty- 
looking pond. I decided to stay in the town till Wednes- 
day, when the Nova was due to arrive — ^by which I’ve 
come round the north back to Reykjavik — and put up at 
the home for decayed old ladies. The landlady had 
travelled a little and was snobbishly pleased to see me; but 
spobbish or not, she was kindness itself, and kept making 
dishes that she thought I should like — ^pies and French 
salads. Among her collection of post-cards was a remark- 
able diagram of the Icelandic mountains, which I stole, as 
I want to reproduce it in the book. Half the inmates were 
in bed dying, but those that were up were odd enough. An 
old postman and his wife crippled with arthritis, a lady 
who has fits of violent mania and paper tearing, but un- 
fortunately not while I was there, a dipsomaniac, and an 
old man with the face of a saint who has a month to live 
(cancer). He has been a servant all his life to a farmer’s 
widow who never paid his wages, made him sleep on the 
floor, and whenever he had any new clothes said ‘Those 
are too good for you. What do you want with fine things 
like that?’ and gave them away. 

147 



W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


The only comedian in Iceland arrived and gave a per- 
formance in a tent, patter songs and the Ruth Draper kind 
of imitations. As far as I could judge he was rather good. 
The audience howled with pleasure. While I was wander- 
ing about in the early hours of the morning waiting for 
the Nova^ I ran into him. He was rather tight. He gave me 
a copy of his book of songs and told me many times how 
wonderful he was. 

The boat was almost empty. There was a yomig Ameri- 
can who had just taken his law finals and was having his 
last fling in Europe, one of those Americans who read 
everything, from poetry to anthropology and economics, 
with apparently no preferences; and a Norwegian fish 
merchant of twenty-four (looking nineteen) who runs his 
own business, and tells me you can’t trust the Icelandic 
business man a yard. 

I find voyages so boring that I can hardly remember a 
thing. The discipline was not aggressive and we coidd 
wander on to the bridge whenever we liked. The captain 
was charming and told us all about his children and their 
illnesses. He has only once got off the boat to go on shore 
in Iceland and that was to have a bath. He has a stock 
phrase:T must’nt spoil my girlish figure.’ There was a selfish 
little English gentleman of independent means at Aku- 
reyri who said, apropos of Spain, ‘Why can’t these 
foreigners behave themselves. It’s sickening. You can’t 
travel anywhere nowadays without running into trouble,’ 
and told me the French had no sense of discipline. 

There were delicious pickled pigs’ trotters to eat at 
dinner. And that’s about all I remember except the whal- 
ing station at Talkneifjordur. O no it isn’t. I had a night- 
mare after reading a siUy book on spiritualism. I woke up 
sweating and wrote it down there and then in the middle 
of the night, but now I can hardly decipher what I wrote. 
I was in hospital for an appendix. There was somebody 

148 





W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


there with green eyes and a terrif5nng affection for me. He 
cut off the arm of an old lady w’ho was going to do me an 
injury. I explained to the doctors about him but they were 
inattentive, though presently I realized that they were 
very concerned about his bad influence over me. I decide 
to escape from the hospital, and do so after looking in 
a cupboard for something, I don’t know what. I get to a 
station, squeeze between the carriages of a train, down a 
corkscrew staircase and out under the legs of some boys* 
and girls. Now my companion has turned up with his 
three brothers (it may have been two). One, a smooth- 
faced, fine fingemailed blonde, is more reassuring. They 
tell me that they never leave anyone they like and that 
they often choose the timid. The name of the frightening 
one is Giga (in Icelandic Giguris a crater) which I associate 
with the name Marigold and have a vision of pursuit like 
a book illustration and I think related to the long red- 
legged scissor man in Shochheaded Peter. The scene changes 
to a derelict factory by moonlight. The brothers are there, 
and my father. There is a great banging going on which 
they teU me is caused by the ghost of an old aunt who lives 
in a tin in the factory. Sure enough the tin, which resembles 
my mess tin, comes bouncing along, and stops at our feet, 
falling open. It is full of hard-boiled eggs. The brothers are 
very selfish and seize them, and only my father gives me 
half his. 

I wish I could describe things well, for a whale is the 
most beautiful animal I have ever seen. It combines the 
fascination of something alive, enormous, and gentle, with 
the functional beauties of modem machinery. A seventy- 
ton one was lying on the slip-way Hke a large and very 
dignified duchess being got ready for the ball by beetles. 
To see it tom to pieces with steam winches and cranes is 
enough to make one a vegetarian for life. 

In the lounge the wireless was playing ^I want to be bad’ 

149 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


and ‘Eat an apple every day’, Dowastairs the steward’s 
canary chirped incessantly. The sun was out; in the 
bay, surrounded by buoys and gulls, were the semi-sub- 
merged bodies of five dead whales: and down the slip-way 
ran a constant stream of blood, staining the water a deep 
red for a distance of fifty yards. Someone whistled a tune. 
A bell suddenly clanged and everyone stuck their spades 
in the carcase and went off for lunch. The body remained 
alone in the sun, the flesh still steaming a little. It gave one 
an extraordinary vision of the cold controlled ferocity of 
the human species. 

I got back here this afternoon about tea-time, and have 
been trying to read through my enormous pile of corre- 
spondence. I hope to get back to England about the middle 
of September. Louis has arrived but is still out seeing the 
Great Geysir. Now I have to make arrangements for this 
Bryanston party who arrive at the end of the week. 
Michael is coming with them and I hope he will stay 
on with Louis and me. It will be nice having some 
company for a change. To-morrow I have to give an 
interview to the press. I’m enclosing some oddments which 
may interest you; the fairy story which I came across again 
here used to be my favourite when I was small and my father 
used to read it to me. If it hadn’t been for this story I don’t 
suppose I should be here now. 

W. 


Proverbs 

A step-child will never get so well into the bosom but 
the feet will hang out. 

Ale is another man. 

Better drink from a beaker than from bent palms. 

Better turn back while the car can run. 

150 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


Between Mends a narrow creek; between relations a 
wide fjord. 

Bridals for yotmg, barrows for old. 

Dull edge and point should only carve soft meat. 

Every man likes the smell of his own farts. 

Fear not raven at rest, nor ragged old man. 

Folk are found even over the fells. 

Gifts should be handed, not hurled. 

He that falls will seldom fatten. 

If mending ^vill do, why cut off. 

It’s hard to bring many heads under one hat. 

It is merely a transition, said the fox, when they flayed 
him alive. 

Land is ruled by Kp, sea by hand. 

Love your neighbour but let his gate stand still. 

Many a person thinks me like himself. 

Many meet who made no tryst. 

Many secrets are hidden in a fog. 

Many teU of St. Olaf who never saw him. 

Men fight by day, devils by night. 

• No one becomes a bishop without a beating. 

One must cultivate the oak under which one has to 
live. 

Only those who have it can splash the skyr about. 

Pissing in his shoe keeps no man warm for long. 
Shameless is the robber that first seeks a settlement. 
Tend the sapliag; cut down the old oak. 

The best muck is the mould that falls from the master’s 
shoes. 

The child brought up at home who has been nowhere, 
knows nothing. 

The haddock never wanders wide, but it has the same 
spot by its side. 

The meanest guest has keenest eye. 

The oak gets what another tree loses. 

151 




r. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 


The water is deep indeed for the old mare when the 
young foal has to swim. 

The wolf has made firiends before now of fighting swine. 
They can’t all have the bishop for their imcle. 

Too bland is a blemish; too bluff greater. 


Gellwor 

Near the end of the Roman Catholic times a certain 
married couple lived at a farm named HvoU, situated on a 
firth in the east part of the cotmtry. The farmer was well 
to do, and wealthy in sheep and cattle. It was commonly 
reported that a female troE Eved on the south side of the 
firth, who was supposed to be mild and not given to mischief. 

One Christmas Eve, after dark, the farmer went out and 
never returned again, and aU search for him was in vain. 
After the man’s disappearance one of the servants took 
the management of the farm, but was lost in the same 
maimer, after dark on the Christmas Eve foUowing. After 
this the widow of the farmer determined to remove all her 
goods from the house and live elsewhere for the winter, 
leaving only the sheep and herds under the charge of 
shepherds, and returning to pass the summer there. As 
soon as the winter approached she made preparations for 
leaving HvoE, until the next spring, and set the herdsmen 
to take care of the sheep and cattle, and feed them during 
the cold season. 

For home use she always kept four cows, one of which 
had just had a calf. 

Two days before her intended departure, a woman came 
to h^ in h^ dreams, who was dressed in an old-fashioned 
dress of poor appearance. The stranger addressed her with 
these words: ‘Your cow has just calved, and I have no hope 
of getting noxuishment for my chEdren, unless you will 

152 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 


every day, when you deal out the rations, put a share for 
me in a jug in the dairy. I know that your intention is to 
move to another farm in two days, as you dare not live 
here over Christmas, for you know not what has become 
of your husband and of the servant, on the last two 
Christmas Eves. But I must tell you that a female troll 
lives in the opposite mountains, herself of mild temper, 
but who, two years ago, had a child of such curious appe- 
tite and disposition that she was forced to provide fresh 
human flesh for it each Christmas. If, however, you will do 
willingly for me what I have asked you to do, I wiU give 
you good advice as to how you may get rid of the troll 
from this neighbourhood.’ 

With these words the woman vanished. When the 
widow awoke she remembered her dream, and getting up, 
went to the dairy, where she iBlled a wooden jug with new 
milk and placed it on the appointed spot. No sooner had 
she done so than it disappeared. The next evening the jug 
stood again in the same place, and so matters went on till 
Christmas. 

' On Christmas Eve she dreamt again that the woman 
came to her with a friendly salutation, and said, ‘Surely 
you are not inquisitive, for you have not yet asked to 
whom you give milk every day. I will tell you. I am an elf- 
woman, and live in the little hill near your house. You have 
treated me well all through the winter, but henceforth I 
will ask you no more for milk, as my cow had yesterday a 
calf. And now you must accept the little gift which you 
will find on the shelf where you have been accustomed to 
place the jug for me; and I intend, also, to deliver you 
from the danger which awaits you to-morrow night. At 
midnight you will awake and feel yourself irresistihly 
urged to go out, as if something attracted you; do not 
struggle against it, but get up and leave the house. Outside 
the door you will find a giantess standing, who will seize 

153 


r. H. A. to E. M. A.— No. 2 

you and carry you in her arms across your grass-field, 
stride over the river, and make off with you in the direc- 
tion of the mountains in which she lives. When she has 
carried you a little way jtom the river, you must cry, 
‘‘What did I hear then?” and she will immediately ask you, 
“What did you hear?” You must answer, “I heard some- 
one cry, ‘Mamma Gellivor, Mamma Gellivor!’ ” which she 
will think very extraordinary, for she knows that no 
mortal ever yet heard her name. She will say, “Oh, I sup- 
pose it is that naughty child of mine,” and will put you 
down and run to the mountains. But in the meantime, 
while she is engaged with you, I will he in the mountain 
and will thump and pinch her child without mercy. 
Directly she has left you, turn your back upon the moxm- 
tam and run as fast as you possibly can towards the 
nearest farm along the river banks. When the troll comes 
back and overtakes you, she will say, “Why did you not 
stand still, you wretch?” and will take you again in her 
arms and stride away with you. As soon as you have gone 
a little way you must cry again, “What did I hear then?” 
She will ask as at first, “What did you hear?” Then you 
shall reply again, “I thought I heard someone calling 
‘Mamma Gellivor, Mamma Gellivor!’ ” on which she will 
fling you down as before, and run towards the mountain. 
And now you must make all speed to reach the nearest 
church before she can catch you again, for if she succeed 
in doing so she will treat you horribly in her fury at finding 
that I have pinched and thumped her child to death. If, 
however, you fail in getting to the chmrch in time, I will 
help you.’ 

When, after this dream, the widow awoke, the day had 
dawned, so she got up and went to the shelf upon which the 
jug was wont to stand. Here she found a large bundle, 
which contained a handsome dress and girdle and cap, all 
beautifciny embroidered. 


154 




W. H. A. to E. M. A. — No. 2 

Atout midniglit on Christmas Day, when all the rest of 
the farm people at Hvoll were asleep, the widow felt an 
irresistible desire to go out, as the elf woman had warned 
her, and she did so. Directly she had passed the threshold, 
she felt herself seized and lifted high in the air by the arms 
of the gigantic troU, who stalked off with her over the 
river and towards the mountain. Everything turned out 
exactly as the elf had foretold, until the giantess flung 
down her burden for the second time, and the widow made 
speed to reach the church. On the way, it seemed to her as 
if someone took hold of her arms and helped her along. 
Suddenly she heard the sound of a tremendous land-slip 
on the troll’s mountain, and turning round saw in the 
clear moonlight the giantess striding furiously towards her 
over the morasses. At this sight she would have fainted 
with fear had she not felt herself lifted from the ground 
and hurried through the air into the church, the door of 
which closed immediately behind her. It happened that 
the priests were about to celebrate early mass, and all the 
people were assembled. Directly after she came into the 
church the bells began to ring, and the congregation heard 
the sound of some heavy fall outside. Looking ftom one of 
the windows they saw the troll hurry away from the noise 
of the bells, and, in her flight, stumble over the wall of the 
churchyard, part of which fell. Then the troll said to it, 
‘Never stand again,’ and hurrying away took up her abode 
in another mountain beyond the confines of the parish of 
Hvoll. 


155 



Chapter XII 
Hetty to Nancy 


Gullfoss. 

August 17th. (Monday I think, hut you can’t be sure in 
these parts.) 

Dearest Nancy, 

How are you and I hope you are liking the Dolomites 
—it was the Dolomites, wasn’t it — and what about your 
new girl-friend? I thought she soimded sweet but that may 
be just by contrast. With the last I mean; I warned you 
about her all along and what can one expect of someone 
who reads botany? You keep to the Arts, darling, though 
in Cambridge I suppose even the Arts are just a teeny bit 
marked with the beast — all this psychology and politics. 
Now don’t you go and get political, because that would be 
the last straw. The hammer and sickle are all right where 
they belong but they don’t suit lady dons. Oh dear, I am 
writing under such difficulties — ^that was Maisie gave me 
a kick then. Not intentional; it’s the size of them you know. 
Maisie Reynolds, in case you think I mean Maisie Gold- 
stein. Well, I am writing in a frightful tent made by 
Maisie’s sister-in-law when she was convalescent. She 
must have been very ill, I think. We are going round a 
thing called the Langjokull; if you want to pronounce it 
you must move your mouth both ways at once, draw your 
tongue through your uvula, and pray to St. David of W ales. 

156 



Hetty to Nancy 

Lang means long and jokuQ means glacier; depressing 
don’t you think? Why we are doing this I can’t imagine 
and if we had to do it, why^ oh why like this? Here am I 
with Maisie in a tent and on our left side is another tent 
and on our right side is another tent. And what do you 
think are in those tents? SCHOOLGIRLS! Would you 
believe it? Robin will think I am returning to my vomit. 
He already holds it a great blot on my character, my hav- 
ing been a school-marm. Well, Maisie said it would be 
much cheaper to have these girls along. They were all 
fixed up with guides, you see. So I in a moment of weak- 
ness agreed to it. Four girls — Ruth, Anne, Mary, and 
Stella — and a marm called Margery Greenhalge. They are 
really quite possible, poor dears, but I mean, I mean^ 
darlings does one come to Iceland for this? It’s all very well 
for Maisie; it’s copy for her, she’s writing a new book 
about a schoolmistress who hanged herself, but when this 
pack of girls gets in The Great Open Spaces goodness 
knows what is going to happen. Sprained ankles is the 
least I should think (they’ve none of them ever ridden 
horses; nor have I for that matter). Talking of the G.O. 
Spaces Maisie says they are a closed book. I have been 
wondering if this would be considered an epigram because 
I couldn’t see that it was very funny and Maisie is sup- 
posed to be witty, but then it is different in London, where 
people have always been drinking sherry before you say 
anything to them. It is a pity you don’t know Maisie 
though or you would see the joke of all this. Which brings 
me back to this tent. M. says it is my own fault for not 
bringing a tent of my own. Hers is a minute conical a ff a ir 
stuck up on a collapsible, not to say collapsing, umbrella- 
handle which comes (very much so) to pieces, three of 
them, and one of them we lost of course, it being already 
getting dark (Heavens what grammar!) so when you get 
it up in the end it is not more than five foot across but that 

157 




Hetty to Nancy 

gives you quite a wrong impression of ampKtude because, 
as I said, it is a cone and it narrows so quickly that even 
when Maisie and I are on our bands and knees we can only 
talk to each other round the back of each other’s heads — 
do you see what I mean — and goodness knows how we are 
going to sleep in it. M. says it would be all right if she were 
by herseK as she always sleeps in the foetal position but 
sleeping in the foetal position means curling herself roimd 
the axle-tree (that is the word, isn’t it) and I am just not 
going to have Maisie encroaching on my half of ground- 
sheet, it’s not as if she were petite after all, stiQ I have to 
try and be nice about it as Maisie has been rather vexed 
with me. You see, she never made it clear that she ex- 
pected me to turn up for this expedition eqmpped with 
one of everything — one fork, one knife, one spoon, one 
cup, one plate — so naturally I came with none of every- 
thing because I thought they were provided by the com- 
pany. But it seems not. I must try and become more Uke 
Miss Greenhalge, who has organised her little flock beauti- 
fully, they all have cups and knives and their tents look 
just like tents, which is more than Maisie’s does. I doiji’t 
mind the shape or the colour so much though Maisie’s 
scores a blob on both but what really galls me is that the 
girls’ tents have doors which lace up all snug and comfy 
whereas this thing has a large triangxdar hole in it open to 
the breeze and nothing to cover it. Maisie has brought a 
very flashy pneumatic mattress with her, yellow on one 
side and blue on the other, she looked Uke something out 
of Brueghel blowing it up but it does look definitely com- 
fortable; I have only got a second-hand sleeping-bag, Miss 
Greenhalge calls it a flea-bag (Miss Greenhalge is one of 
those people who when in Rome insist on talking Roman) 
my bag was left behind by an explorer — doesn’t that make 
one feel the real thing — and it had a corkscrew in it which 
seemed odd but Maisie says nothing need surprise you from 

158 



Hetty to Nancy 


an explorer and she is going to write a book about explorers 
some time called The Pole of Solitude. I am writing this 
by a candle. Maisie is holding it. The night outside is 
damp. Doubly damp in fact, (a) because there is a Scotch 
mist, (6) because in our efforts to do the right thing from 
the start we have pitched camp on the edge of a ravine 
and in the spray of a large waterfall. This waterfall is called 
GuUfoss. I am told that foss is also the Icelandic for bicycle 
because when they introduced the bicycle the natives 
could think of nothing except a waterfall sufficiently 
velocitous to compare it with. Anyhow it is a very fine 
waterfall as waterfalls go but, as Maisie says, they don’t 
go far. One of the girls, Mary, has a cine-camera and took 
some photos of it in the twilight. Maisie is getting tired of 
holding the candle but I must just get down the events of 
the day for you. This morning we met our girls in Reyk- 
javik and took them buying oilskins. Miss G. wanted also 
to do the sights but we dissuaded her. There is only one 
real sight in Reykjavik and that is a museum of sculpture 
by a man called Einar Jonsson. The worst sculpture I have 
ev.er seen in my life, and that is saying a lot. First of all all 
the pieces are in plaster and you know how filthy plaster 
gets, secondly they are all, or nearly all, enormous^ thirdly 
they are symbolic. And the symbolism, darling, is the sort 
they used to have in the Academy before someone put 
their foot down or was it the effect of the war? You know 
— ^Time pulling off the boots of Eternity with one hand 
while keeping the wolf from the door with the other. The 
only one which didn’t seem to be symbolic was Queen 
Victoria on an elephant; a welcome piece of naturalism as 
Maisie remarked. So we didn’t take the girls to this cor- 
rupting spectacle but they had a look roimd the shops of 
the great city Reykjavik and most of the things are im- 
ported from England, raspberry - coloured baths and 
mauve lavabos, but there was one window of home-made 


159 




Hetty to Nancy 

Icelandic pottery which, for some odd reason (or perhaps 
influ^ced by Einar Jonsson’s Victoria) consists mainly 
of mantdpiece figures of elephants. This reminds me that 
we asked someone why Beatrix Potter shouldn’t be done 
in Icelandic and they said, ‘But the children wouldn’t 
know any of the animals.’ Which is true — ^frogs, squirrels, 
rabbits — ^you just don’t find those things here. Well, all 
the time we were looking at these novelties of civilisation 
(comparative novelties here though I even saw some 
Elizabeth Arden preparations and also heard some chil- 
dren sing in g The Music Goes Round and Aroimd m Ice- 
landic which also no doubt is culture pace Hitler who 
wants to reclaim this island and will no doubt substitute 
the Eddas for the Lutheran pray erbook) Maisie, who is an 
indefatigable interviewer, was interviewing a Social Demo- 
crat whom I saw at parting, a lost soul M. says — ^was the 
first socialist here and is ending in sorry compromise. All 
I noticed was the colour scheme of his hands — dark 
brown to deep orange, strong black hair on them, and very 
light pink fingernails. So we shook off the dust of that city 
and took our bus for GuUfoss. What giggling, my dear! 
The bus was a combination bus and lorry. In the bus-part 
sat ourselves — a merry little company — and in the lorry- 
part sat our packs and food. The food is much but odd — 
10 kilograms of smoked mutton (HangikfU in Icelandic, 
you’d never guess how that’s pronoimced). Miss Green- 
halge by the way doesn’t use the word Icelandic, she calls 
it the local lingo, 10 long loaves of brown bread, brick- 
hard, the sort of thing you find in Egyptian tombs, a vast 
dried mat of Hardfiskux (dried fish), two enormous slabs 
of cheese (4 kilos each I thipk), 10 large tins of mutton. 
It seems a lot but we have to feed the guides as well — ^two 
guides, nice men but they have no English. Well, as we 
bussed it, we turned aside to look at a small geysir called 
Grylla which spouts of itself every two hours through a 

160 





Hetty to Nancy 

small round hole in a flat stone. Of course we didn’t know 
when the two hours were due so we had to wait. There 
were sundry hot springs steaming away in the valley and 
Maisie who Hkes to play at being Every Girl Her Own 
Billican, insisted on making tea in one of them. Needless 
to say it was unspeakable as the springs are full of sulphur. 
The geysir was better value, it went off just as we were 
beginning to despair of it, a sweet little thing so slhn and 
girlish, the girls devised a game of throwing a tin cup on 
to it, the jet of steam works like a catapult and you shotdd 
have heard how Miss Greenhalge laughed. She laughs 
conscientiously and seismicaUy. She is very large, very red, 
and bespectacled (lenses as thick as beer-bottles). The 
girls among themselves call her La Paloma, you know how 
romantic they are in these schools. In Reykjavik I foimd 
a letter from a little girl called Elsie comparing me to a 
whole string of heroines, the first being Lucrezia Borgia 
and the last being Elizabeth Barrett Browning. So it looks 
like a week of pussy-talk in the lava-fields. Not that Miss 
Greenhalge would encourage that sort of thing. On the 
contrary she believes in making her girls behave like 
public schoolboys — I mean as public schoolboys behave 
in Ian Hay or in the Mind of God. She wants to see their 
stuffing, has been reading the latest Peter Fleming. They 
are all rather in trepidation about their horses. The guides 
tell us that the last ladies they took this way fell off their 
horses and all but refused to get on again. Which is a bad 
lookout when there is no human habitation for thirty 
miles or so and no possible means of transport and no food 
except an occasional bilberry. We met our horses for the 
first time in the gloaming, real little ducks, 17 in all — 
7 for us, 2 for the guides, 3 reserves, 5 pack-horses. Maisie 
fancies herself quite Melton Mowbray now as she rode her 
first pony several weeks ago. One of the girls, however, 
Stella, apparently rides at school and even knows how to 

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jump. She is a flashy Kttle girl and is the only one with 
real leather liding-boots, not that they will do her any 
good as in Iceland you keep riding through rivers and you 
need a good honest Dunlop. I am sorry to say that I come 
last in point of attire because whereas everyone else has 
riding-breeches I have only got a pair of hopcloth beach- 
trousers I bought in the South of France. They are some- 
what baggy to squeeze into one’s gumboots apart from 
being claret-coloured but why buy new clothes just for a 
week’s Baden-Powelling? Maisie by the way is sleeping in 
this tent in pyjamas and was very shocked because I got 
into my sleeping-bag without imdressmg. To see Maisie 
struggling out of her undies in two square foot of space 
makes you realize what built the British Empire. She has 
been reproving me incidentally for mine — ^not my Empire, 
my undies — she says that to wear crepe-de-chine panties 
may be all right for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer but it won’t do 
roimd the LangjoktiU. But then Maisie, who is a shirt-and- 
tie girl herself, is all for the approximation of the sexes; 
she says that to emphasise one’s femaleness is a relic of 
barbarism like men wearing beards, and that if I do no- 
thing else on this trip it is essential that I shall reduce my 
bust measurement. Which reminds me that the landscape 
to-day was rather nice from our bus, at one point there was 
a perfectly lovely vista all in stratas — ^first brilliant green 
grass, almost emerald, then a bank of pink clouds I sup- 
pose of dust, then blue serrated crags, and last but not 
least a glacier floating in the distance, milky-blue — ^you 
could hardly believe it was real. But what worries me is 
that they have no goats. Plenty of fine fat sheep and very 
clean compared with English ones, but ne’er a goat not 
even of the littlest. It is like the Irish over cheese. I firmly 
bdieve that if the I.F.S. would only (a) make cheese and 
(fe) eat it, they would (a) improve their budget and (6) 
modify their characters — ^become more pacific like the 

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Hetty to Nancy 

Dutch.. Q.E.D, and what was all the fuss about? M. says 
she is tired of holding the candle so will write you more 
to-morrow, darling, provided IVe not broken my collar- 
bone. Sweet dreams in the Dolomites. 

August 18th 

Darling, darlings darling, it is very lucky your poor 
friend Hetty is aHve. The worst night I have had since 
Aunt Evelyn walked in her sleep — ^you remember, the 
fire-extinguisher business. I had great difficulty to start 
with getting to sleep. For why? (1) Because we had 
pitched the tent with our heads running downhill, (2) 
because we had pitched it on bilberry bushes, which kept 
prickling me through the groimdsheet, (3) because Maisie 
would get more and more foetal, so that in the end her 
feet were playing an absolute barrage on my tummy. All 
things, however, are possible and I did get to sleep in the 
end only to be woken by a clammy thing on my face like 
some very unpleasant beauty treatment — ^you know when 
they plaster you with eggs and whey and things — ^which 
tilrned out to be the tent or more precisely the inner cover 
of the tent because there are two. There was a j&ightful 
noise of rain outside and the whole tent was caving in 
under it, Maisie was swearing and saying she was going 
down with aU hands. I took the ostrich’s course and hid 
my head in my sleeping-bag. Not that that was unduly 
dry and the foot-end of it was sopping because that was 
where the door of the tent came. When I popped out my 
head again, the tent had become very much smaller 
(Heaven knows it was small enough to start with) and was 
closing in on us like something in Edgar Allan Poe. So I 
cowered round the pole in the middle and Maisie and I got 
entangled like a pair of wet tennis-shoes when one packs 
them in a hurry. And the rain fell 40 days and 40 nights. 
Or so it seemed. And the tent got smaller and smaller. 

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Hetty to Nancy 

For once in my life I was glad to get up at six — ^that’s what 
you do on these expeditions. The rain had stopped but the 
air was full of waterfall. M. and I were very angry to learn 
that all the others had had a dry night and we made a 
surly breakfast in our oilskins, M. precariously cooking 
some coffee on her rather undependable stove. By the time 
breakfast was over there was actually some sxm, in fact the 
day looked promising. There was much complication over 
the packing of the food panniers because when a pony 
carries a pannier each side they have to be exactly the 
same weight. It sounds easy but it isn’t — ^who knows the 
relative weights of cheese and hardfiskur? While the 
others were taking a morning look at the rainbow spray of 
GuUfoss Maisie and I had our first lapse from esprit de 
corps and sneaked into the little tin house which caters for 
trippers where we had some very good coffee. After all 
there won’t be anywhere to buy anything for a week. Then 
we sorted our horses, Maisie taking the best, a sturdy white 
beast with solid pillar-like legs (Ranelagh standards don’t 
go here) and off we started. Off we started indeed, bang up 
the side of the valley; if you have never been on a horSe 
before it does seem a little hard to start on the perpendi- 
cular, I was scared stiff. And when we got to the top they 
started trotting — simply terrifying and very very painful 
— I think my horse must do what is called a brock which 
even the professionals don’t Hke. In any case their trot is 
too short for one to do any rising in one’s saddle so we had 
to ride like the cavalry (sic) and I fully sympathised with 
Mary who kept telling the barren plateau that her legs 
were on fire in tones of bravado mingled with abject 
panic. We had a respite however when the pack-horses 
got lost. There is one very naughty white pack-horse who 
thought he would go home to Geysir where he came from 
and turning to the left at a fork went flat out for home 
before anyone realised what was happening. So the two 

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Hetty to Nancy 

guides and Maisie and Rutt and Anne followed him while 
the rest of us loitered along the right road at a walk and 
comparatively painlessly. In single file most of the time, 
the road being a mere track through stony deserts rather 
reminiscent of Hollywood. The day opened out and there 
were highly spectacular views on the left, intense blue 
amethyst moimtains castellating the glacier. There ought 
to be another glacier on the right but we couldn’t see it. 
Eventually the others came back with the pack-horses * 
and about 1.0 we stopped for a rest at one of the rare 
patches of grass, taking off the horses’ saddles and packs 
and I expected some food but it seems that that isn’t done. 
Stella showed off a little by quite superfluously adjusting 
her horse’s bit while the rest of us creakingly lowered our- 
selves on to the welcome turf. But very very shortly we 
started again and this time we did some cantering. Canter- 
ing is even more perilous but not so painful as trotting. 
Miss Greenhalge was riding a heavy black pony looking 
rather like something in a pantomime; you felt that she 
might just as well do the walking and the pony trot 
between her legs. She (Miss G.) is really very large indeed. 
(Maisie says that it is psychological being so tall and that 
tall people are running away from life. Hence, at the other 
end, Napoleon.) Well, gradually we came up to the hillg on 
the left which flank the glacier and having passed a snappy 
little picture-postcard gorge we encamped about 5,0 on a 
spongy piece of grass where we hobbled our horses accord- 
ing to the guides’ instructions (the guides are exceedingly 
nice not to say long-suffering), turned them adrift and 
began putting up our tents. It was then that Maisie and I 
made a scientific discovery. This tent of Maisie’s has an 
outside cover and an inside cover. Well it seems that if 
you don’t want to get wet you mustn’t let these two touch. 
Now last night we went out of our way to peg them down 
absolutely flush. It seemed so much neater but that was why 

165 




Hetty to Nancy 

we got so wet. The tent is still pretty clammy by the way. 
Having put up the tents we ate a large meal. The girls are 
getting himgry and were quite williag to try the despised 
smoked mutton. Smoked, not cooked mind you; you put 
your teeth in a hunk and then haul away the hunk in both 
fists. After that Greenhalge took some of the girls up 
BMfell, which is a craggy mountain on the left, while M. 
and I diverted ourselves more according to our years, 
stumping through a marsh on the right of our camp in 
order to inspect the gorge of the river Hvitd. The gorge 
like all Icelandic gorges is perpendictdar and composed of 
that beastly breaking stone. The Hvitd was turbulent and 
a most peculiar colour. ‘The putty-coloured gletcher,’ 
Maisie said appreciatively. We amused ourselves rolling 
down stones into it while Maisie told me that her next 
novel is to deal with the English colony in Frfijus. As we 
picked our way back through the marsh we kept hearing a 
single desolate creaking sound — ^Uke a creaking gate as M. 
said — ^which it turns out is a plover. This land would 
really make a very good setting for HeU, it reminds me of 
Gustave Dor6’s illustrations to the Inferno. The sphag- 
num moss everywhere gives the effect of ruins and you 
can imagine the sotds of wicked philosophers sitting 
here and there on the sharp stones, their beards 
covered with lichen repenting their false premisses. We 
got back before the others, so had to make the coffee or 
rather the coffee and cocoa as Ruth can’t drink coffee. 
M.’s petrol stove is not all it might be and has to be 
ptunped all the time. Greenhalge and the girls came back 
from Bldfell, they hadn’t reached the top of course and 
what they had was very hard going, all loose shale and 
stuff — every three foot forward they slipped two foot 
back. We opened another tin of mutton and found it much 
better than last night’s; we think it has benefited from its 
jolting on horsd)ack. After dinner Greenhalge opened a 

166 



Hetty to Nancy 

little case and, to Maisie’s horror, began to offer the girls 
quinine pills and vegetable laxatives* Maisie has a bee in 
her bonnet about laxatives; she thinks her inside knows 
best* I was thirsty after all the mutton and went to the 
stream for water — ^it is so cold that it seems to lacerate 
your gums. Greenhalge is a good sort really, always ready 
to lend you a knife or a cup and she does all the washing 
up. The girls don’t do anything much in that line excepting 
possibly Anne who is going to be house-prefect next term. 
Anne is the best-looking though she will be better looking 
when she has learned not to pout. She probably has a nice 
little temper on occasions and does a power of grumbling. 
Her intonation and vowel sounds are just what you expect 
from a nice British schoolgirl. Ruth, I should say, is the 
most intelligent. She says hardly anything but is obviously 
terribly noticing and puts herself out for nobody. She has 
just got five credits in the School Certificate and ought to 
go far. Stella, who as I said is the horsewoman of the 
party, is conceited but perhaps a little pathetic. She talks 
a great deal with a lot of wasted emphasis, wears a vulgar 
but no doubt expensive bracelet, and altogether gives the 
effect of a cheeky terrier pup that has not been quite pro- 
perly trained. Mary is an odd girl, neurotic, and capable 
of quite astonishing ineptitude. She puts questions to 
Greenhalge like an irrepressible child — ^‘Why are the 
mountains that shape, Bliss Greenhalge?’ ‘How many kilo- 
metres are there in a mile. Bliss Greenhalge?’ and so on 
and so on indefinitely. She has a tight little mouth, at 
least she makes it tight through nervousness, which is 
rather incongruous with her figure, for she is a strapping 
wench and would look all right if she could stop putting 
her hands to her face and get the dolefiil expression out of 
her eyes. She has a nice nature and thanks one even super- 
fluously when one does anything for her. She seems to 
enjoy herself in spite of her fear of the horses and gives 

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Hetty to Nancy 


vent to her enjoyment with a quaint mouse-like heartiness. 
She shares the large tent with Greenhalge and Anne while 
Stella and Ruth have the little tent. Talking of tents 
Maisie and I are much more comfortable this evening and 
I have invented a scheme for the candle which would do 
credit to a Girl Guide. Perfectly simple: you take an ordi- 
nary country shoe which laces up, insert the candle in the 
laced part, and fasten it there tightly. The shoe is Maisie’s. 
Maisie says that this tent inside by candlelight looks like 
a Stratford-on-Avon set for Julius Caesar. Maisie is smok- 
ing like a tramp-steamer. I tell her she is one of those 
people like Midas; everything she touches turns to 
cigarettes. I have been explaining to her that she will feel 
the effects of it in ten years’ time when she is forty. She in 
her turn has been lecturing me on marriage. She is afraid 
that I will become servile. I tell her that Robin is much 
too vague for anyone to be servile to him but she main- 
tains that that makes him all the more dangerous and that 
I shall have to spend my time running after him with his 
season ticket. M. says only unintelligent women ought to 
get married. She would prefer me to have a career like 
yours, darling, but she forgets I am not qualified. Not that 
personally I could breathe if I lived in Canobridge. All 
those coffee-parties you have with people talking about 
Marx. And the intrigues^ darlings the intrigues! No, it’s 
marriage for me unless Robin thinks better of it. I 
shouldn’t blame him, poor dear, but I don’t think he will. 
It’s curious one should attract people when one isn’t 
really very attractive. How do you explain it? I really 
must go to sleep now, I feel a heroic stiffness in my joints 
and it seems highly doubtful whether I shall be able to 
mount a horse to-morrow. Maisie seems to be asleep with 
a cigarette in her mouth. Her pneumatic bed is sighing 
like something out of A, E. Housman. I shouldn’t be sur- 
prised if it’s flat by to-morrow. Good-night, darling. 


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Hetty to Nancy 


August 19th 

To-day started rottenly but was a good day afterwards. 
We had to pull down our tents and breakfast in icy rain. 

I had brought no gloves and felt my fingers were going to 
fall off. The girls looked none too happy though we didn’t 
actually have any tears. We decided that we should all 
change horses from yesterday and that each day we should 
take them in rotation in order of age. This meant that I 
got the One Maisie had yesterday, which is the star horse* 
and goes like the wind. It is pure white all over though 
Stella says it is technicafly a grey. But if you call a white 
horse grey, what do you call a grey horse? Anyhow this 
horse was a goer and for the jfirst time I felt the joys of 
horsemanship, though to start with I was very much 
alarmed especially when it opened its throttle on the edge 
of a precipice. We had one terrific gallop (canter actually) 
down a long hill and across a plain of ashes, a dust-storm 
whipping our faces so that we were riding blind. I turned 
my face to the left to avoid the grit in my eyes and there 
saw suddenly a shining sea tilted obhquely upwards, 
patching the sim. Like something in the Ancient and 
Modern hymnbook. First I thought it was water and could 
not understand why it stayed put. It was the icefield. I 
hked it exceedingly. About mid-day we stopped for a rest 
and Greenhalge doled out chocolate — ^four tiny squares 
per head. I could hardly prevent myself asking for more; 
it is most instructive to note one’s mental unadaptability, 
one just can’t imagine there won’t be a shop further on 
where one can buy all the chocolate one wants. As a 
matter of fact the next place we came to, Hvitanes, was 
very civilised. It is where I am writing now — ^in a very 
swish hut of corrugated iron buttressed all along the sides 
with growing tmrf and the walls lined inside with match- 
boarding. Near by is a little tin house with a man in it 
whom you pay one krdna for your night’s lodging and he 

169 


Hetty to Nancy 


sells you cigarettes. We arrived at this blissful spot about 
2.0 and after a cold meal were marshalled once more on 
horses to go and see the glacier which runs down the 
mountain opposite into an attractive lake called Hvita- 
vatn. Unfortunately I did not have the white horse again 
but one of the reserves or pack-horses and a very dim 
beast he was and needed a deal of slapping. We had an 
ama 2 dng trek across the flat grassland to the north of the 
lake which is nothing but a delta of broad, rapid, and ice- 
cold rivers. We had to ford them one after another and 
how the horses stand it I can’t imagine. Anne and I had 
the worst horses and were left a long way behind flounder- 
ing ignominiously and hoping the horses wouldn’t fall 
down with us. Following a devious route we crossed our 
last river (about the ninety-ninth) and left the horses on 
the further bank under a steep cliff of shale. Which same 
we began to climb and clambering up that sort of thing 
in gumboots is, I may tell you, no Sunday-school treat. 
What was more, we had no idea why we were going up it. 
The guide can’t talk English, you see. Well, why we were 
going up it was in order to have a close-up of the glaciey 
but glaciers have very bad complexions, and for myself 
I would much rather see them from a distance. Green- 
halge, Ruth, and I occupied ourselves by climbing a little 
conical hill to get a wider view of the countryside which 
was certaiiJy very beautiful. We also saw a bit of ice fall 
off the edge of the glacier. On our ride home we saw about 
thirty young horses running through the grassland at 
their pleasure. Where ignorance is bliss . . . Little do they 
know that in a futinre season they wiU have to carry 
people like us about. On arriving at our hut Maisie at once 
began to cook dinner. She said it was qmte time we had a 
hot meal so she poked about the hut and our luck was in, 
for what did she find but a primus stove and a large pan. 
So Maisie put the whole contents of one of the tins of 

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Hetty to Nancy 

mutton in the pan and mixed it (against my advice) ivith 
water and toiled it on the stove. Oddly enough the result 
was very good* I bought some more cigarettes j&rom the 
man in the hut who seemed a little amused by us all. 
Perhaps they don’t know their Angela Brazil roxmd here. 
I notice that the Icelanders in spite of their tough exis- 
tence have a certain whimsicality not common among the 
other Scandinavians. Perhaps the explanation is that 
given by an Icelander in Reykjavik — ^that it’s the Irish in 
them which accounts for this. ALfter dinner every girl 
washed her own dish but I not having a dish merely rinsed 
the grease from my hands in the broad and serene river 
that flows between the hut and the mountains. I should 
mention that a little further down this river is the most 
exquisite convenience, a kind of wooden sentry-box 
which projects over the water; I have already visited it 
twice; in this barren country such comfort is really lyrical. 
After washing up we wrote our names in the Visitors’ 
Book and all of us except the guides played rummy by 
the light of an oil-lamp (unheard-of luxury!) in which 
Ruth had all the luck, sitting there saying nothing, with a 
pale quiet smile, time after time laying down her cards and 
going out. Irritating little girl! Not so irritating as Stella 
though, who talked without ceasing. The room got in the 
most awftd fug as Greenhalge had allowed the girls to 
smoke (give a pawn and take a queen, you know; Green- 
halge is all for making men of them) which is all right for 
them because they are sleeping upstairs (fancy having an 
upstairs!) but not so good for Maisie and me who are 
having this room to omrselves. I have just been outside 
for a breath of jfiresh air and saw the huge mountain oppo- 
site floating on nothing — ^the nothing was of course ice. 
There is some talk of another party whom we may meet 
on this route — ^N.U.S. I think — gloomy how educational 
the place seems to be becoming. I am not sure that I like 

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Hetty to Nancy 


the EngKsh in Iceland. The ones coining over on my boat 
were a very odd lot. The second class much nicer than 
the first. There was a little cockney confectioner who did 
tricks with his false teeth and was reading a book on how 
to be a successful writer. Then there were two Welsh Jews 
from Birkenhead who had a great many odd bits of 
curious knowledge and one of them used to sing The Rose 
of Tralee and Die Lorelei; fruity wasn’t the word for it. 
There was a young tax-collector from Preston who carried 
the Oxford Book of English Verse in his pocket. And there 
were half a dozen old schoolmistresses (but they travelled 
first) from Manchester who had already gone the pace in 
Finland and Russia and Brussels. I wonder what they all 
want out of Iceland. Or just to say they have been there? 
My bed to-night is on a wooden bench with a mattress 
under my sleeping-bag. It being comparatively warm, I 
am sleeping in my panties and vest. I will now try if I can 
blow out the oil-lamp without getting up for it. 

August 20th 

Darling, I am nearly dead. Up at six again to-day and 
my horse was a demon. And that wicked Maisie who had 
it yesterday, never let on about it. It has the brock all 
right. When we started this morning the trouble began 
with its saddle slithering down under its tummy. These 
horses have a deplorable habit of inflating themselves 
when you fasten their girths. Well by the time I had 
tightened its girth I had to catch up the others, so first I 
trotted and then I cantered and really I don’t know which 
was the more imcomfortable. Well, when we did catch up 
the others, my malicious beast charged straight in among 
the pack-horses and gored my leg against one of the 
wooden panniers. And after that it ran away with me, 
tossing me sky-high in its cantering so that I had to hang 
on by the mane and my eyes were streaming with the 

172 



Hetty to Nancy 

wind in them. ‘If I don’t fall off this horse,’ I said, ‘I shall 
be very proud of myself.’ That finished it. We were then 
riding along a narrow track sunk in the ground to a depth 
of three feet or more — ^the sort of place you ought to pro- 
ceed at a walk but where my horse suddenly decided to go 
full speed ahead so that my right foot caught in the right 
bank of the track and I fell gracefully over its tail with 
my foot still in the stirrup. I will say that the horse stood 
still tin I disintricated myself. After that we got among 
rocks and there we all just had to walk. On our left was a 
river in a very narrow gorge, the sort you could jump over 
if you were a fool, and the sides moulded into all sorts of 
elegant concaves. The mountains beyond it licked down 
great tongues of ice and it would all have been very 
romantic if I had not felt so sore. We stopped for our mid- 
day snack in a pleasant meadow encircled by mountains 
and sitting in the shelter of a bank by a little stream ate 
smoked mutton and raisins. Maisie, who fancies herself 
with a camera, went round taking art shots of people 
through each other’s legs. I must say we were well worth 
photographing. The cold weather makes us all look much 
funnier in our various defences against it. Maisie herself 
has taken to wearing a sou’-wester with an old felt hat 
fastened on over it with a safety-pin. Her sou’wester is 
bright yellow, her oilskin coat is black, and her enormous 
gumboots are brown. Wisps of hair straggle down over her 
forehead and when she walks she moves like something 
that is more at home in the water. Margery Greenhalge 
also looks pretty odd. She wears an amazing woollen 
helmet with earflaps which combined with her goggles and 
general outsizeness makes her look like a piece of Archaic 
Greek sculptuary. Stella, goodness knows why, appears to 
be wearing a blue and white bathing-cap. Anne has a kind 
of a Cossack hat which would suit her as an equestrienne 
for Bertram Mills. After our snack, we took our horses by 

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Hetty to Nancy 

the reins and led them up over a very steep and stony 
ridge; it is the first time we have done this for as far as they 
are concerned they would carry us over a tightrope. At 
the top I let the others ride ahead and proceeded at a walk 
beside the guides and pack-horses. It was on this occasion 
that I thought I saw Greenhalge in the distance and it 
turned out to be a cairn. We caught up the advance-guard 
in a frightful state of emotion. Anne had cut her finger and 
two of the girls were in tears. Greenhalge, redder than 
ever, rushed round the pack-horses tearing open all the 
panniers for iodine; anyone would have thought the girl 
was going to die. Maisie was explaining that you usually 
cut your finger because you wanted to — ^Kke making 
Spoonerisms she said. Anne did her best to be a lovely 
martyr but she did not have the whole house with her as 
both the guides and little Hetty were definitely bored. 
These queens of the schoolroom begin to think that any- 
thing will go. The day was now getting misty and the ride 
dreary. I held in my beast and trailed along humbly with 
the jingling pack-horses, losing the sense of time. I thought 
the ride would never come to an end. But it did. Suddenly 
we came over a rise and there was a long and shallow 
valley, desolate enough for anyone and smoking away like 
the dumping-ground of a great city. I thought the whole 
vaUey was on fire but coming closer I saw that the smoke 
was trails of steam, dozens of ribbons of steam blowing 
from left to right. This was our destination — ^the hot 
springs of Hveravellir. It wotdd now be about teatime, 
the others had already left their horses by the hut and 
were walkmg back to look at the springs. ‘You must see 
the hut,’ Maisie shouted to me, ‘it is just like a henhouse.’ 
And it toos, my dear, but only the sort of henhouse you 
would find in a depressed area. The walls are of rough 
stone banked outside withjturf, the corrugated iron roof 
is also covered with turf; the stone walls inside are unlined 

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Hetty to Nancy 


and the whole place is incredibly damp. There is a nasty 
platform to sleep on three foot up from the floor and an- 
other platform higher up imder the roof which you reach 
hy a ladder. After surveying these apartments I went to 
have a look at the springs. A real witches’ laundry with the 
horizontal trailers of steam blowing through the mist, 
some from little pop-holes in the groimd and others from 
quite large pools, most of them circular. Some of these 
latter were lovely, might have been invented by Arthur 
Rackham — stone basins of highly coloured water varying 
from Reckitt’s blue to green, and round the edge yellowish 
growths of sulphur. The crust of stone around them seems 
only about four inches thick and you expect any moment 
to go down like Dathan and Abiram. The water is practi- 
cally boiling and the whole valley smells of bad eggs. 
Hveravellir was where an eighteenth-century robber made 
his hide-out for a year; he must have got dreadfully tired 
of his sulphuretted drinking-water. We made our coffee 
with it and I cannot say I would fancy it every day. But 
it does seem a waste that aU this hot water should be 
bubbling away here for nothing. When you think of all the 
trouble housewives are having this very minute with 
boilers and how people who still use ranges forget to put 
in or pull out the dampers and how every other lodging- 
house has a geyser over the bath which won’t work pro- 
perly. Why didn’t Nature put Hveravellir in Bayswater? 
Greenhalge, Maisie, Anne, and I (being the elect) are sleep- 
ing on the upper platform close to the iron roof. The roof 
drips water and spiders. This evening was not a great 
success. When we opened the food panniers it was found 
that the cheese was thickly coated with coffee. Greenhalge, 
noble as ever, set to work to decarbonise it (her own 
phrase) but we were all discouraged as the cheese is the 
one food which anyone would think of eating in England. 
After supper we played rummy on the lolVer platform by 

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Hetty to Nancy 


tke Kght o£ candles in shoes (my little patent, you remem- 
ber) and a very odd scene we made like a Victorian en- 
graving of a meeting of Old Covenanters. One good mot 
on this occasion: Greenhalge suddenly said ‘^O here’s a 
knave with such a sympathetic expression’ to which Ruth 
replied quietly ^Then it must be a queen’. Maisie was 
frightfuUy pleased. The Icelandic cards aU have different 
faces, you see, and there’s no doubt that our present 
’ company see little need for a world of two sexes. They will 
grow out of that of course. I’ve seen ’em do it before. 
Incidentally I haven’t noticed much galanterie on the part 
of the guides. Maisie says it’s because the North is ascetic 
but I think it’s just because we’re dowdy. The Icelandic 
girl is never without her lipstick. Your poor Hetty has 
lost hers in her sleeping-bag. I said to Maisie ^Haven’t you 
got anything of the sort?’ and she said ^The only thing that 
ever goes on my face is good honest Lifebuoy Soap’. She 
has a tablet with her which she takes down to the gletcher. 
Personally I’m giving up ablutions; when I get home I 
shall go to Elizabeth Arden’s. Good-night, darling. Perhaps 
you’re sleeping in a hut too. Mountaineers always do, don’t 
they? Maisie has been telling me terrible things about 
mountaineers and I think you had better be careful with 
yoxir new friend. What a life you have, don’t you! But with 
aU that choice you ought to hit it off some day. Good-night. 

August 21st 

I had to get up in the night — ^I think it was the sulphu- 
retted coffee. Or rather I should say get down because 
there I was up on the platform absolutely wedged in with 
corpses. So instead of going down by the ladder I did a 
little exhibition of gym and swung myself down by my 
hands, nearly falling over a guide. It was impleasant out- 
side, a thick Scotch mist and the ground very cold under 
my stockinged feet. Of course I oughtn’t really to be 

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Hetty to Nancy 

wearing my six-and-elevens from Marshall and Snelgrove 
out here but I never thought of bringing anything wooUen, 
One can’t think of everything after all. Maisie says she is 
going to write to Robin about me. Robin wouldn’t know 
though; it is the sort of thing he does himself. I felt defi- 
nitely ill when I got back to bed and kept wondering 
whether I had caught a disease from my sleeping-bag or 
whether it was just that nasty horse yesterday. But I will 
spare you the details of my symptoms. I woke up at 6.0 
\vith a dream-couplet running in my head. Until I was pro- 
perly awake I thought it was terribly good. It went like 
this: 

^We write no ethics down the cabin walls. 

There are ethics at home at all.’ 

I wonder would the Surrealists pay me anything for that. 
To-day we did our longest trek — ^70 kilometres. You work 
that out in miles and take off your hat to us! And what was 
more, we walked half of it on our own feet. Because to-day 
we were doing imdiscovered coimtry. Doesn’t that excite 
you, darling? We had to get across, you see, from Hvera- 
v^Dir to Axnarvatn. Well, people don’t do that direct. They 
go up much farther north and then down again. But we 
hadn’t time for that because the girls have to catch a boat. 
The guides themselves were quite excited and amused 
themselves by building cairns — a game to which the 
coimtry is admirably adapted. In the ceiitre of Iceland 
there are only three khxds of scenery — Stones, More Stones, 
and All Stones. The third type predominated to-day. The 
stones are the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong 
colour, and too many of them. They are not big enough to 
impress and not small enough to negotiate. Absolutely un- 
picturesque and absolutely non-utilitarian. We stumbled 
over their points in gumboots, dragging the wretched 
horses behind us. And at the same time we were climbing. 
Maisie was disgusted. She said it was like afteraparty which 
M 177 




Hetty to Nancy 


no one had tidied up. It’s certainly hard to think how a 
country gets in a mess like this. A geologist would know, I 
suppose. The glacier was now to our south and looking dis- 
tinctly jaded. There were peaky mountains on our right, 
dull and sullen in the mist. About 1.0 we found a fallen-ia 
cave, a thing like a subway and no more beautiful, and 
stopped there to eat chocolate. Ruth too seems to be suffer- 
ing from the sulphur. Then we went on again over the stones. 
Next time we ford a river I shall be very surprised if om boots 
do not turn out to be punctured. I tried to remember my 
T. S. Eliot and said something to Maisie about stony rubbish 
and dry bones but Maisie said anyone would be an optimist 
who expected to find anything as human as a dry bone in 
these parts. Then we came to the dry bed of a river which 
seemed even more desolate still and was also a litter of 
stones. And then at long last we came to a miracle — a 
small patch of grass with sheep on it. Not that I would be 
those sheep aU the same. Still they seem to thrive on it. 
In fact, the sheep in Iceland all look the size of horses. Once 
we had seen the sheep things went better. The sun even 
came out. We came to a clear stream where the hors.es 
could drink and not long after that we reached our destina- 
tion — a very beautiful lake lined with long gleams of silver 
in the low sun. Here we fotmd our third hut — ^far more 
primitive than even the last one and a great deal smaller. 
Maisie and I commandeered it on the ground that we are 
the least well ecjuipped in the way of tents. I think we 
made a mistake. Not that it hasn’t an admirable situation. 
It stands over a little river which falls in a cascade to the 
lake; it is called the Skammd or Short River and is rap- 
turously cold to drink. Away to the south-east stands the 
EiriksjokuU, a dark, square, upstanding mass of mountain 
with white flaps of ice coming down over its walls. But it 
is built of turf and stone — ^the hut, I mean — and the turf 
is falling out of the walls and roof and the sleeping-plat- 

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Hetty to Nancy 

form was thick with earth and cobwebs and Maisie began 
by putting her foot through it. There is also a very peculiar 
smell. We prepared for a meal outside the hut and Maisie 
on opening the pack which contains her stove found that 
it had fallen irrevocably to pieces. The fruit of our long 
trek. Well, that was that — ^no coffee or cocoa and we had 
to drink the Skamma. So then we tried to think of some- 
thing original to do and we played rummy in the hut. 
There was so little room when the girls all got on the plat- 
form that we had to stick the candles on the crossbeam. 
Every now and again a sod of turf would fall on us from 
the roof and tempers were none too good. The girls said 
they were joUy glad they were sleeping in their tents. 
Various people have written their names on the beams of 
this hut, including one F. J. Smith, who adds sympatheti- 
cally Wery cold’. The hut boasts one teacup with a design 
of pink roses and tied up with string. Maisie and I have 
been discussing what can cause the smell under our bed. 
Maisie was very pleased this evening because Stella broke 
her bracelet. She broke it in a typical manner by snapping 
it Jbackwards and forwards. Maisie says all those orna- 
ments are relics of barbarism and that both men and 
women nowadays should aim at dressmg in imiforms. No 
friUs and no bright colours. That is civilisation, Maisie 
says. A sweet-tooth is a bad sign too, she thinks, like the 
Icelanders sugaring their potatoes- I tend to agree here. 
I think I had now better put out the remaining candle as 
it is leaning sideways and plastering Maisie’s shoe with 
wax. Her shoes are having a hard time as they are also used 
for ashtrays. This black hole of a hut has rather a roue 
appearance at the moment as Maisie has hung her bras- 
siere from the crossbeam. It is deplorably cold and the 
wooden platform is hard under my sleeping-bag. I thought 
very hard and managed to remember a Latin quotation — 
probitas laudatus et alget — which means roughly that it is 

179 




Hetty to Nancy 


a fine thing to be a Girl Guide but that you can’t keep 
warm in kudos. How only too true, darling. ‘Never again’ 
Maisie and I have been saying to each other. Well, here 
goes the light. 

August 22nd 

I woke at 6.0 feeling half frozen. Maisie in spite of 
her pneumatic mattress, sleeping-bag and extra blankets 
maintained that she was even colder. Rain came on at 
breakfast time blown by a cold wind oflf the LangjokuU. 
After breakfast walking fifty yards up the Skamma I came 
upon a rock adorned with a hammer and sickle in red 
paint. It was like Robinson Crusoe seeing a human foot- 
print. The rain became definitely vehement so we prepared 
ourselves for a bad day. I put on puttees over my beach- 
trousers and borrowed some gloves from Anne. Then we 
clambered into our already sopping saddles and set off 
leaning into the wind and trying to cover our knees with 
our oilskins. What a morning! As we moved south and 
drew level with the EiriksjdkuU the wind increased, 
whipping straight across the glacier and nearly blowingns 
off our horses. The rain became hail. When we dismounted 
to give our horses a rest we realised how wet we were about 
the knees. Greenhalge remarked that -vfhen roughing it in 
this way it is always a good thing to think of the discom- 
forts of the people climbing Everest. Maisie says she 
would rather think about the people dining at the Ritz. 
Maisie was looking odder than ever to-day as she had for 
the first time put on her yellow oilskin leggings. She began 
by wearing them inside her gumboots but after half-an- 
hour or so realised that the water was collecting round her 
feet so she put them on over her boots which no doubt 
served a purpose but no one could call it very chic. She 
looked as if she had webbed feet. Well, on and on we rode 
throt^ the stinging rain; it was so nasty it was really 

180 



Hetty to Nancy 

rather enjoyable. And we all felt rather heroic, I think. I 
heard two of the girls telling each other what a lot of grit 
La Paloma has. La Paloma, you remember, is Miss Green- 
halge. We came to a very nice round pool lying flat in 
the rocks which the wind was whipping up into ostrich 
feathers. What really kept us going however was the 
knowledge that to-night we should spend for the first time 
in a human habitation, an outpost farm at a place called 
Kalmanstunga. You have no idea what a <iiff*erence it 
makes knowing that you won’t have to bother with tents. 
As for huts the less said about last night’s hut the better. 
In the afternoon the rain gradually subsided and stopping 
our horses on the brink of a yawning cave we cHmbed 
down into the shelter of its mouth and there ate our four 
portions of chocolate. It then transpired that the chief 
guide was for some unknown reason very anxious to do us 
the honours of the cave and lead us undergroimd to an- 
other opening goodness knows how far distant. Wishing 
to be poHte we agreed to this and our first impetus had 
carried us well into the darkness before we realised that to 
play this game with any success whatsoever you need a 
candle per head. Greenhalge, reliable as ever, produced a 
candle but one candle is inadequate for eight persons, and 
I thought we were due for a serious accident for in all 
directions you could hear people and rocks falling over 
each other. It was not a very handsome cave, what one 
could see of it, and the floor was entirely covered with a 
jumble of Isirge rocks so that you coxdd only make a yard 
of progress by cKmbing say six foot up and four foot down 
again. And one should not do these things in long oilskin 
coats. Our one candle did not promise to last and the girls, 
Anne in particular, became a trifle agitated so we ex- 
plained to the guide, rather to his chagrin, that we would 
now go back again. The one attractive thing about this 
cave was the ice which grew in it, sprouting upwards in 

181 




Hetty to Nancy 

shapes like empty champagne bottles, each with a nice 
round hole in the top of the neck. I broke one of these 
bottle-necks off and sucked it on our return journey. It 
was deliciously refreshing. Poor Maisie had a rough pas- 
sage, she kept falling over the flaps of her leggings and I 
was afraid she would break something. We all, however, 
emerged to the light without injury. The rain had now 
stopped and our clothes were again comparatively dry. 
After an hour or so we came to an unwonted sight — a gate. 
The first gate we had seen since GuUfoss. Admittedly it 
was a rather tenuous gate precariously suspended in a 
barely existent-fence. All the same it was a gate and a 
symbol of civilisation. The going was better now and we 
trotted happily for Kalmanstunga. We got there about 
6.0, coming to it down a steep hill. Maisie had ridden ahead, 
announced our arrival and ordered coffee. The farmhouse 
is a large respectable building of corrugated iron standing 
in the middle of an emerald green tiin. Tiin (pronounced 
toon) is the specially cultivated meadow attached to an 
Icelandic farm. Kalmanstunga has many stone outhouses 
roofed with nice green sods; this kind of roof always has 
a Beatrix Potter look about it. Having got off my horse 
and splashed through the little stream separating the 
stables from the house I arrived in time to hear Greenhalge 
make the following remark — ^that it was a really astonish*^ 
ing thing in such a position to find a farmhouse of corru- 
gated iron where one woidd expect a thatched cottage 
covered with wisteria. Personally I didn’t care what it was 
covered with provided I got my hot coffee. Yesterday, 
remember, we had nothing but cold water. The house was 
already full of people, being the only house for miles and 
in a strategic position for travellers. We were waited on, 
in fact, by a fellow-guest, an Icelandic lady who had spent 
most of her life in Denmark, Scotland, and London. She 
was a non-stop talker but an eflicient waitress, put two 

182 



Hetty to Nancy 

tables together for us and laid them with a wonderful meal 
of coffee and cakes. Marie Antoinette’s economic sugges- 
tion, ‘If they have no bread, give them cake’, would be a 
perfectly sound one in Iceland for the Icelanders are the 
world’s greatest cake-eaters. In many of the farms they eat 
them at every meal starting with breakfast. When we had 
put down all we could the talkative lady cleared away and 
in the course of an enthusiastic statement of her love for 
Britain told us that dinner woxdd be ready in half-an-hour. • 
So for half an hour Maisie played the piano — ^it is very 
unusual to have a piano and not a harmonium — and then 
dinner arrived and our fears of a sweet soup were not 
fulfilled. The Icelanders when they want to give you a 
special treat put brilliantine in their soup or else flavour 
it perniciously with almond. Hot almond is not a good 
taste. The only thing to do with these soups is to drown 
them in stewed rhubarb which they tend to give you at the 
same time. Maisie says that Icelandic cooking makes her 
think of a little boy who has got loose with Mother’s 
medicine-chest. After dinner we were shown our rooms — 
two rooms leading out of each other, very cosy and hospit- 
able but with rather a shortage of beds. The four girls are 
sharing two small beds in the first room and in the second 
room are two beds which have been run together. Green- 
halge naturally has one and Maisie and I £ire sharing the 
other. AU the beds here are furnished with deckers, if you 
spell it like that, and as a decker can’t be tucked in it is 
not ideal for covering two well-grown females such as 
Maisie and myself. Maisie is elbowing me inconsiderately 
so you must forgive my writing. I can quite clearly hear 
the girls whispering next door. Presumably they don’t 
realise we can hear them. The two nearest to us are ta l k i ng 
about La Paloma (La P. herself can’t hear, I think, as she 
is the far side of us and seems to be already asleep). One 
of the two girls says that La Paloma has a very beautiful 

183 




Hetty to Nancy 

smfle but the other says that it is not such a spiritual 
smile as one Miss Robinson’s. Now they have got on to 
me. They do not think my smile is nice; one of them says 
it is cynical and the other says I use make-up (this is not 
at the moment true as I have lost my lipstick). Now they 
have reverted to La Paloma and are wondering if she 
meant either of them when she said to-day, ‘Some girls grow 
Tnneh (pucker than others.’ One of them says that 
Mias Robinson gave her a brooch at the end of last term — 
one of those too sweet little brooches with fox-terriers on 
them. The other refuses to believe this; they are both 
getting piqued. Now the other — I mean the one — has got 
out of bed to look for the brooeh in her rucksack. She has 
found it and is showing it off in triumph. The other is 
distinctly huffy, she will not believe that it came from 
Miss Robinson but says that the one bought it herself in 
Woolworth’s. The one answers indignantly that you can 
see brooches like that in Bond Street. Now the other 
starts a hare; she says that she had a Christmas card from 
Miss Robinson last Christmas. The one is rather stumped 
over this but rallies and says in a sinister tone, ‘Last 
Christmas was last Christmas.’ Now there is going to be a 
scrap. No, there was no scrap; they merely had a general 
post and everyone changed beds. Maisie says there is 
nothing new under the sun. Good-night, darling. 

August 23rd 

To-day began in comfort and ended in misery. We got 
up for once at a rational hour and even had a little hot 
water to sponge our faces with. While we were dressing 
that extraordinary girl Mary had an attack of music. She 
gave a (piite remarkably timeless rendering of ‘O God our 
help in ages past’. And when someone ironically congratu- 
lated her she said, ‘Yes and I’m also very fond of Jerusalem 
the Golden.’ Breakfast was at 9.0 and lunch at 10.0, We 

184 



Hetty to Nancy 

said, ‘Isn’t that a little soon for lunch ?’ but they explained 
that it was quite all right because they kept their clocks 
two hours ahead of Reykjavik. Anyway lunch was a thun- 
dering meal — ^mutton drowned in gravy followed by a 
mix-up of fruit and sago. Overnight our clothes had been 
considerately dried and we now put on our numerous 
extras although the morning looked fine and mUd. Our 
caution was justified. The guides kept us waiting while 
they went over the horses’ shoes and we stood outside the 
farm looking over to the LangjokuU. They say that to 
cross the LangjokuU here from Hvitavatn takes 13 — or 
is it 16 — ^hours. That is one thing we will not do though 
I am sure Greenhalge would have great fun rescuing the 
girls from crevasses. Greenhalge once went on a visit to a 
mission school in India where she heroically lulled a 
scorpion. There was such a nice dog who talked to us 
while we were waiting, a sort of little sheepdog, black and 
white with a thick but not very long coat, a broad forehead 
and a spitzy foreface. Nearly all Icelandic dogs are of this 
type except that the colour varies. They are amazingly 
friendly creatures; it is considered a bad trait in an Ice- 
landic dog if he harks at strangers. They tend to be called 
Gosi which is the name of the knave in an Icelandic pack 
of Cards. I must bring you home some Icelandic cards; the 
kings and queens are figures from the sagas and the aces 
axe waterfalls. Badly drawn but a less expensive souvenir 
than a sheepskin or a silver fox. Iceland is a barren land 
for souvenirs. Of course one can always bring home little 
bits of lava for one’s friends — I saw the Manchester school- 
teachers doing this at the Great Geysir — ^but I am afraid 
I have the wrong sort of friends. Maisie and I had a con- 
versation this morning about the foreignness of Iceland. 
We decided that not counting the scenery, which is of 
course unthinkable, there are only two really foreign 
things in the place — (1) the system of nomenclature and 

185 



Hetty to Nancy 

(2), as already mentioned, the food. The former is just 
lunatic; in order to use a telephone directory you have to 
know everyone’s Christian names and then you are not 
much farther because all their Christian names are the 
same. The people themselves are not nearly so foreign as 
the Irish or the yokels of Somerset. You can’t imagine any 
of them behaving like the people in the sagas, saying 
"That was an ill word’ and shooting the other man dead. 
Disappointing, still one needn’t travel if one wants to see 
odd behaviour. You are wonderfully situated, of course, in 
Cambridge. Talking of local colour did I tell you about the 
ship’s electrician I met on the Flying Scot? He told me 
that Abyssinia was largely inhabited by black Jews with 
ginger hair. But to get on with my record. The guides 
finished tinkering with the horses and we set oflf g^y in 
the brisk and Hvely morning. They all waved us oflF from 
the farm. It would be rather nice to spend the winter at 
one of these farms — a terrific fug, constant jabber on the 
radio, ivy growing in pots and the family reading HaU 
Caine. It was sad to think there would be no farm to-night. 
But the reality was worse than otir expectations. We 
began by fording a turbident river, the water came over 
the tops of our boots — at least of our left boots — ^the girls 
thought it was a scream. It’s not such a scream though to 
have water in yom boots for hours afterwards. The Ice- 
landic pony is of course an amphibian. He can even swim 
a river with someone in the saddle but it has to be the 
right someone. There is a legend of an Icelander who in the 
early days of tobacco used to swim his horse two miles out 
to sea to meet the tobacco boat. After fording the river 
the rain started, a drizzle hut very unpleasant. One could 
not decide whether to fasten up the collar of one’s oilskin 
or not. And then we went through a so-called hirch forest 
^a scrubby little affair about four foot high but it does 
seem quite compamonable after the miles and miles and 

186 



Hetty to Nancy 

miles of no vegetation but moss. A little later we reacted 
a very nice piece of grassland where Ruth contrived to be 
thrown when her pony put its foot in a hole. From Kal- 
manstunga south we had been following a track which is 
used by cars — one of those thick red lines which look so 
impressive on the map. Nowhere else in the world I sup- 
pose would this be called a road but it is used as such for 
we met two buses on it. And as a matter of fact whoever 
constructed these roads is a pubUc benefactor even though" 
constructing consists merely in moving aside the stones, 
that is the bigger stones. Our progress to-day was again 
stony once we had left the short stretch of grassland. We 
got in between LangjokuU on the left and a mountain 
with the charming name of Ok on the right and once we 
had done that all we could think of was getting somewhere 
else. But we didn’t. We went on and on and the landscape 
remained the same. It was like walking the wrong way on 
a moving staircase. We were close in under the LangjbkuU 
but it was covered with mist. Maisie was in a frightful 
temper. This valley is called Kaldidalur which means Cold 
Dale — apt but inadequate. The Icelanders are rather 
proud of it as a show-piece of scenery and no doubt on a 
clear day it may be quite beautiful if one drives through it 
quickly in a car. But all we could see was a thirty-foot 
radius of stones. The stones were too much for my horse 
and it took to stumbling. We came across the ancient 
wreck of a very primitive touring car — ^more desolate than 
the bones of a camel in a film about the Foreign Legion. 
The rain never came on veiry properly but it was con- 
tinuously damp and we began to think we preferred 
yesterday’s weather which at least made us feel heroic. 
About supper-time we got down into lower country and 
riding on ahead of the guides stopped our horses on a 
marshy piece of pasture ground on the edge of a dreary 
lake. We hoped this wasn’t our destination but it was. It 

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Hetty to Nancy 

is called Brmmar. We set up our tents on squelchy ground 
in the drizzle and owing to the direction of the wind and 
the lie of the ground M. and I have to sleep with our heads 
out of the door to-night. However, we have erected across 
it a barrier of kitbags, gumboots, and canvas panniers. 
The guides think we are funny because we all look so 
gloomy. The guides deserve high marks to-night for, after 
we had eaten a melancholy meal in the rain and were all 
' moaning because, owing to the breakdown of Maisie's stove 
there was no hot drink to wash it down with, the guides 
came along rather shyly and asked (mainly by dumb show) 
if we would like the loan of their stove. We didn’t know 
they had a stove but sure enough they brought along a 
minute rudimentary object like a small canister which we 
welcomed with open arms and it actually worked though 
I must admit it took some time. While we were waiting 
patiently for our coffee Maisie made a sudden scene and 
said she would not have highly scented foods in her bed. 
This referred to some cheese and smoked mutton which I 
had left there. When the coffee arrived we had to drink it 
not only, as always, without milk but also without sugar. 
The sugar is kept in an old tobacco tin, and when we 
opened it to-night every single lump had turned a deep 
puce colour. Quite inexplicable and rather sinister. No 
one, even the guides, had the nerve to try any of it. Maisie 
and I are now lying wedged in our tent hoping for the best. 
The Icdandic year has passed its prime and the guides are 
taking no more expeditions after this one. I feel I should 
mention that we saw some ptarmigan on arriving at 
Bnmnar. You won’t know any more about ptarmigan 
than I do but it is quite time I gave you a nature note 
(there is awfully little nature aroimd here). Maisie and I, 
clammy and rheumatic, are listening to the schoolgirls 
chattering in their tents next door and are asking each 
other whose fault this is. We have told the guides that we 

188 



Hetty to Nancy 


want to start early to-morrow. To-morrow brings ns to 
civilisation and there is no point in staying in this par- 
ticular little swamp a minute longer than we need. 

August 24th 

Well, here we are in ValhaUa — ^that really is what it is 
called — ^the hotel at Thingvellir. Thingvellir is where they 
used to have the Thing, which was the Icelandic name for 
parliament and a very good name too, don’t you think. 
It is the historic showplace. Not that there is anything to 
see except geology but it is amusing geology — rifts and 
such. It would have been nicer if we had had better 
weather but the day has been damp and misty and Ruth 
quarrelled with Stella because Stella intrigued with Anne 
to prevent Mary riding beside Greenhalge. Mary was in 
tears (she admires Greenhalge intensely across a great gulf 
of incompatibility) and Ruth demanded back &om Stella 
an Eversharp pencil which she had given her and which 
Stella refused to return. We were up this morning at 6.0 
with no appetite whatsoever and intending to leave 
Brunnar as quickly as possible. Naturally the ponies chose 
just this one morning to get lost, the guides disappeared 
over the horizon in search of them and the rest of us waited 
in our marsh among our bags and chattels like people in a 
country railway station in the West of Ireland where the 
train has stopped on the way to talk to the cows. The 
tents were packed up, the food panniers strapped down, 
ourselves muffled in scarves, and Maisie r unnin g roxmd 
taking photos. They will not come out of course but 
Maisie does not like to waste her time. At long last the 
horses returned quite impenitent and off we started. I had 
an excellent horse to-day, a large black one with a white 
star on its forehead, and we got our best gallop yet across 
a long expanse of grey sand by a lake called Sandurvatn. 
In our heart of hearts I think we were aU playing sheikhs.. 

189 




Hetty to Nancy 


It is very nice when the sand flies up in your face and you 
plop up and down in the saddle to a perfectly regular 
rhythm — chichihu, chichihu, chichibu. It is not really 
galloping of course, only cantering. Our stampede across 
the sands went to the head of that old malefactor, the 
white pack-horse, who broke loose and galloped after us, 
throwing off Maisie’s bed en route. Anne, who has a habit 
of mock indignation (at least it starts mock and ends 
• serious) was very cross indeed with the white pack-horse 
and said it should be thoroughly well thrashed; she is soon, 
as I said, going to be house prefect. Maisie’s bed was re- 
established (we had to gather up various very odd articles 
which had fallen out of it on the sands, it is by way of also 
being a hold-all) and we went up slowly over the water- 
shed, from the top of which we had a fine view of the plain 
that reaches to Thingvellir, a fine plain that looks a lot 
more livable than anything we have seen lately. We 
pastured our horses ^it the foot of the descent and then 
went aU out for otir Mecca, reaching it about 2.0 in the 
afternoon — a good deal earlier than we had expected. We 
went straight to the hotel and ordered coffee. The hotel 
is about the only building here but there is also a minute 
chmch. While we were waiting for the guides and pack- 
horses who had been left a very long way behind, we nearly 
had a serious imshap thanks to the incredible stupidity 
of Mary and Stella. Stella, as you remember, is supposed 
to know about horses. Well those two infant geniuses 
finding their horses had no hobbles tied them to the two 
ends of a ladder belonging to the hotel. Inevitable result; 
the horses ran amok and the ladder suffered from schism. 
Maisie and I from the breakfast room looked out over the 
landscape and suddenly saw these two horses catapult 
across it with the ladders (or half a ladder each I should 
say) clattering behind them. By some miracle they escaped 
injury and we said nothing about the ladder at the hotel. 

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Hetty to Nancy 

After our coffee Maisie and I, with the unanimous support 
of the girls (sloppy little things!) began to work upon 
Greenhalge to induce her not to camp out to-night; she 
had her eye upon a peculiarly unprepossessing site between 
two low-grade ditches. After all what is a tent? A tent is a 
make-believe house; when there is a real house about why 
go on making a belief one? Greenhalge lowered her stan- 
dards to a compromise. We had suggested, out of the 
cunning of our hearts, that we should all sleep in sleeping- 
bags in the dance-hall. This sounded enough like a bar- 
racks to appeal to Greenhalge’s passion for hardship so 
she cried off the tents and said we would all rough it in the 
dance-hall. But when we asked the hotel people if we 
could rough it in the dance-hall they said unfortunately 
no because it was wanted for 250 Frenchmen who are 
coming to breakfast to-morrow. So (the virtuous are re- 
warded in the end) they have supplied us instead with 
little cabins on the ground floor, six foot square, two beds 
in each, walls of matchboarding, one krona a night. That 
is what I call good value but poor Greenhalge felt she had 
been tricked. In the afternoon we walked up the gorge. 
Everyone has to walk up the gorge here. Just like when 
you go to Tintem Abbey you have to see the moon 
through an arch. The gorge is an odd phenomenon and 
would be nice for a picnic. The spirit of the sagas de- 
scended upon me and I walked through the river in my 
gumboots. This was just above the fall and I liked to think 
it was dangerous; whether it was dangerous or not I got a 
lot of water in my boots and had to hurry home. Maisie, 
Ruth, and Mary remained behind and in a spirit of emula- 
tion climbed down the waterfall itself; or so they told me 
afterwards. I doubted it because they seemed to be quite 
dry. When we were all together again in the hotel it was 
suggested we should go a nice row on the lake in the mist. 
No one showed great enthusiasm for this and we ordered 

m 




Hetty to Nancy 

some coffee instead. M. and I went to our cabin to change 
and I quite innocently did a perfect turn h la Brothers 
Bronett— you remember, the clowns at Olympia— by 
pulling off my boots and thereby flooding out our bed- 
room. Not only our bedroom because it flowed along the 
passage and we could hear it lapping on unknown doors 
in the distance. No one would believe so much water could 
come out of one pah of gumboots. Maisie was rather cross 
about it. We took our clothes to the kitchen to be dried 
and sat down to our coffee and cigarettes; we have been 
hard up for cigarettes since Kalmanstunga. Here as every- 
where else you can only buy Commanders. There are 
several oil paintings in this hotel, notably a rather limatic 
picture of the Thingvellir gorge by that cnrious painter 
Kjarval. Kjarval’s gorge was not at aU as we saw it but 
then most of the Icelandic painters seem to see with the 
eyes of chameleons. Cascades of paint, a dr unk pink sky, 
a whole lot of things looking like sunflowers and wheels 
flying about over the rocks, a total effect of perfectly 
tropical luxuriance. I am not sure however that I do not 
prefer this mania for colour to the kind of fake C4zanne 
landscape which a few of their painters go in for. There 
is also here a very sombre lava-scape by one Johann 
Briem which only demonstrates that the Icelandic cubist 
has no call to distort as Nature has done that for him. I 
have also in this hotel been observing the Icelandic girls. 
Fine strapping wenches on the whole, with tilted noses, 
figures rather tight and slightly assertive bosoms. Their 
expression of face tends to be self-possessed. I shotild think 
there is no fluff in their relationships. We had hardly 
finished coffee when we had our evening meal in Green- 
halge’s cabin. We chose her room because she has it to 
hersdf but all the same I am sorry for her. It is not so nice 
to sleep in a room which is stuccoed with food. I haven’t 
noticed if it applies to myself but I must say the others 

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Hetty to Nancy 

have become rather untidy eaters on this expedition. 
Greenhalge was wonderfully good-humoured about it; 
perhaps she felt it made up for not sleeping in a tent. After 
dinner we played a little desultory rummy and when the 
girls had gone to bed Greenhalge and Maisie had a long 
and very serious conversation about adolescence, educa- 
tion, and psychology. It all began when Greenhalge said 
that one of the ‘difficult’ girls at her school had been sent 
to a psycho-analyst. This set Maisie oS on her hobby-horse. 
No one, according to M., ought to go to an analyst except 
of their own free will, i.e. if they are so unhappy that 
analysis is the only hope for them. Now your ‘ffifficult’ 
girls, as Maisie quite rightly maintains, are probably no 
more unhappy than anyone else; it is only that they get 
in the way of the headmistress. The headmistress wants 
everything to be right and tight in her own little hive and 
doesn’t care a hang for the girls’ lives as individuals. So 
off they go to the analyst who removes their difficulties 
and from then on they are as clean and harmless about the 
house as a neuter cat. (Maisie’s comparison, not mine.) All 
yery well for the house but what about the cat, says 
Maisie. Maisie says it is a bad thing in Freud that he always 
suggests that neurosis is something to he got rid of. On the 
contrary, says M., all the progress in this world is due to 
neurosis. If Sylvia Pankhturst had been analysed in her 
’teens, we shouldn’t have women’s suffrage. Let us have 
as much neurosis as we can stand. This reminded me of an 
argument I had with Robin, which I now repeated to 
Maisie. M. says I must tell Robin I refuse to have children 
if he is going to Truby King them. I must only have them 
on condition that they are to be exposed to germs, allowed 
to retain their neuroses and never on any account given 
purges. From purges we got on to religion and we all 
agreed that poor old Freud is sadly off the rails in The 
Future of an Ittusiou. All that stuff about the pmre and 
N 193 



Hetty to Nancy 


scintillating mind of the child being blunted and crippled 
by its early religious instruction. Not that I am any advo- 
cate for religious instruction, which is one of the reasons 
I like Iceland. Iceland is one of the few places where you 
don’t feel it in the air when it’s Sunday. I dare say though 
that the introduction of Christianity did indirectly pro- 
mote the amelioration of social conditions (just to show 
you I can write like a don too) for the life of the sagas was 
not qidte what we call civilised. Talking of civilisation it 
is comfortable in this bed and I very much hope to-morrow 
night Greenhalge doesn’t force us to camp out at Laugar- 
vatn. She was saying sadly to-night that the expedition 
had really been very easy. No really gruelling tests of 
the girls’ endurance. Judging by the girls’ behaviour at 
Kaldidalur I should say this was just as well. How do you 
find your endurance in the Dolomites ? Good-night, darling. 
To-morrow is our last trek. 

August 25th 

We had our last ride this morning and our first bath 
this evening. The baths at Laugarvatn are heated from 
the hot springs; with great good sense they do not use the 
actual water of the springs (sulphur again!) but with much 
ingenuity run some ordinary water through the springs 
in pipes. This morning we saw the 250 Frenchmen — ^the 
ones who were coming to breakfast. Many of them were 
Germans but even so there were a lot more French than 
one expects to see anywhere out of France. They were 
mostly naiddle-aged but included a few miserable girls in 
their ’teens whom Greenhalge was able to compare un- 
favourably with our ones. They had aU motored out the 
50 kilometres or so from Reykjavik and had the time of 
their lives taking cine-photos of four or five unhappy little 
native children togged up in pseudo-national dress and 
standingin awkward dumbcrambo attitudes against ablank 

194 



Hetty to Nancy 

wall. The invasion, needless to say, also included a few 
middle-aged Englishwomen, the sort with ankles lapping 
down over their shoes and a puglike expression of factitious 
enthusiasm combined with the determination to be in at 
the death, whoever or whatever is dying. Maisie had a 
field-day with her Zeiss. And so to Laugarvatn. I had the 
little brown pony which I had the first day, and, strange 
to say, I now found it extremely comfortable. Greenhalge 
fell off twice to-day but the really bad feature of the day 
was that the guides produced another cave (they ought 
to be psycho-analysed). We entered it by a small burrow 
and it took us three-quarters of an hour to reach the other 
end of it. It was just as clammy, rugged, incoherent, 
dangerous, and dark as the one near Kalmanstunga and 
once again we had only one candle. There is nothing to be 
said for this type of cave. We saw more caves later how- 
ever; we went out of our way to see them in fact, branching 
up a grassy slope to the left. These ones were rounded 
openings in a very soft cinder-coloured stone which I 
maintaia to be a kind of volcanic sandstone. Maisie says 
that a volcanic sandstone is a contradiction in terms; it is 
a sad reflection on female education that none of us knows 
any geology. One thing we do know however is that you 
can’t find fossils in Iceland. A pity; a fossil or two would 
make the place more homey. Well, till a few years ago 
these sandstone or whatever-they-are caves were lived in 
by a couple with a cow. The rock is very easy to cut and 
you could see where they had cut slots for the door-bars, 
also where the cow had spent long nights munching away 
the wall. The rock outside, which is of a very odd formation 
— quite Barbara Hepworth — ^is covered with carved 
names, names of people and ships and the registration 
numbers of cars. Someone has also carefully cut out the 
word SILLY and cut a square round it. The road from 
here to Laugarvatn was mainly downhill and Maisie and 

195 




Hetty to Nancy 

Anne rode ahead in a spirit of competition; Maisie likes to 
show she is not as old as she was. Various signs of civilisa- 
tion began to appear such as stray agricultural imple- 
ments. My little pony began to shy; I suppose it thought 
they were monsters. I was not at all surprised when we 
reached Laugarvatn to hear that Maisie had been thrown 
by her horse a htmdred yards from home. While galloping 
up the straight it suddenly turned at right angles to itself, 
leaving Maisie in the air, from which in due time she 
descended but, being Maisie, did not break anything or 
appear appreciably altered except for a little mud on the 
face. The hotel at Laugarvatn is a school in the winter and 
an hotel in the summer. It is a very pleasant place but we 
are not sleeping in it. The others have put up their own 
tents and Maisie and I have hired one of the large tents 
which the hotel lets out in the summer to surplus visitors. 
This is much more what a tent ought to be. There is a 
camp-bed on either side of it plus mattresses plus bolsters, 
and there is room to move about in the middle. There are 
of course spiders. It is sad to think that they never have 
anything but grass and hay to eat. Oh sorry — I must have 
left out a sentence. I meant to say that we had said good- 
bye to our horses. Not the spiders, you see. Not but what 
the spiders must have rather a thin time because there are 
very few flies in this country. Perhaps they are Bernard 
Shaw spiders. We stood ourselves a dinner in the hotel 
instead of making a last inroad on the smoked mutton (by 
now rather sordid) and our dried fish who is so tattered he 
looks like a scarecrow; he was a fine animal once. Diuner 
began with asparagus soup — aren’t we getting civilised — 
but I was very sorry we had no skyr. Skyr is very good; it 
is a near relation of cream cheese and a ^stant relation of 
yaghourt. There were about fifty old women also having 
dinner — a kind of mother’s tmion for they were weajring 
their national costume which with its gold medallions in 

196 



Hetty to Nancy 


front and long loops of hair behind makes a lady, from my 
own point of view, look rather too much like a horse. We 
treated ourselves to some citron and Maisie had an attack 
of General Knowledge. She told us — ^what we all knew 
already — ^that the population of Iceland is 110,000 of which 
30,000 live in Reykjavik. Mary wanted to know how they 
knew this. I am getting just a teeny bit tired of communing 
with the budding mind of youth. The conversation of the 
young has no doubt a certain artless charm which pleases 
for the length of a tea-party but when prolonged all the 
way round the Langjokull it suffers from the two minor 
flaws of being (o) invariably platitudinous and (&) in- 
finitely repetitive. They are all getting terribly excited 
about their train-connections at Hull; to-morrow, you see, 
they are s ailin g for home. I think they are banking too 
much on their boat running to schedule. No doubt as far 
as place goes it will be reasonably accurate and land them 
in Hull and not in Fishguard but I should allow a good 
36 hours’ margin for time. They are only little boats after 
all. I can hear the young now; they are lying in their tents 
next door, writing up their diaries. Two of them are ta lkin g 
about Miss Robinson. Anne is going to stay behind to- 
morrow. She and Maisie and I have an mvitation to stay 
in the lunatic asylum. I shall send this letter with Miss 
Greenhalge on the Godafoss. Good-night, Hebchen. 

August 21tk 

‘And so the game is ended that should not have begun.’ 
We are now on the Godafoss seeing off our party. You will 
notice that the boat is leaving a day late; it probably 
stopped roimd the coast to pick up some fish-heads (Ice- 
landic boats have the courage of their caprices). I am 
writing this with a blunt pencil leaning against the taff- 
rail (?). Yesterday morning we bussed back from Laugar- 
vatn to Reykjavik and heard the sad news about the boat. 

197 




Hetty to Nancy 

Greenhalge and the girls spent the night in the students’ 
hostel, Maisie and Anne and I accepted our invitation to 
the asylum, where Maisie fell through her bed; it was a 
camp-bed and no doubt took against Maisie for being a 
pacifist. The Lunatic Asylum is charmingly situated at 
Kleppur and is quite fittingly the place where Marshal 
Balbo landed on his flight across the Atlantic. The Reyk- 
javik-Kleppur bus is designed like a cathedral; there are a 
few seats scattered here and there down the side-aisles and 
a vast empty space down the middle for people to stand 
in. The road to Kleppur suffers from ribbon development 
and nothing, my dear, can look worse than a corrugated 
iron suburb if it is not kept tidy. The lunatics here are not 
much in evidence though they can be heard faintly cooing 
in the distance. They have a very fine bathroom. Our 
host, the doctor in charge, is a charming old man and so 
are aU his family. He has whitish-grey hair, gold-rimmed 
spectacles, fiery blue eyes, a bad leg, and a black velvet 
smoking-jacket. M. thinks he looks rather like W. B. 
Yeats. That perhaps is because he also is said to be clair- 
voyant. Spirituahsm, you know, has a great vogue in Ice- 
land though they only have their stances in the winter — 
like the hunting season in England. There is a famous 
mystic called Dr. Helgi Pjeturrs who has written a book 
about life on the other planets. Icelanders, he says, are the 
most spiritual people in the world, but, spiritual or not, 
we all go to the planets when we die and there we all have 
a very good time. Dr. Sveinsson however (our asylum 
doctor) did not talk to us much about spiritualism but 
indulged his other passion, which is Latin. He has a habit 
of breaking into Latin in conversation which is a little 
embarrassing for Maisie and me whose classics are dis- 
tinctly what you might call rusty. As for that poor girl 
Anne, she merely goes red in the face and says, ‘I’m awfully 
sorry, I’m afraid I’m jolly bad at it.’ It is very impressive 

198 



Hetty to Nancy 


however the way Dr. S. will suddenly turn to you over his 
coffee and remark with terrific gusto, ‘Juppiter iratus 
buccas inflat’ or ‘Multae sxmt viae iugeni humani.’ His 
pronunciation, I may remark, is Icelandic. He showed us 
his English-Latin grammar, a mid-nineteenth century 
book by one Roby, which he says is a poem to him. When 
Dr. S. was a young man he used to act as a guide and take 
visitors round the country on ponies. He had some very 
good stories about an old English eccentric he was guide. 
to every summer — a hot-tempered gentleman who used to 
hit people with hunting-whips but he was so short-sighted 
he always hit the wrong ones. Mrs. S. was very charming 
and hospitable and we had bilberries and cream and 
coffee before going to bed. Then came Maisie’s episode with 
the bed. This morning we came in to Reykjavik and spent 
the whole morning drinking coffee in the Tea-Rooms, 
which is their actual name, and eating cream-cakes. We 
hear that last night two men in Reykjavik got drunk, one 
betted the other he would swim 100 metres in the harbour, 
jumped in, swam 50 and was drowned. ... I must finish 
this off as the boat has begun to groan. (I don’t blame it.) 
The girls are being seen off by a schoolmate who dropped 
on them out of the blue in Reykjavik and apparently is 
staying with friends here — a boring Kttle girl who poses 
as rather fast and has begun using lipstick, needless to say 
very badly. Well, darling, goodbye — I don’t suppose you 
will ever read all this stuff — ^give my love to Cicely. I hope 
to see you anon in Cambridge or Gordon Square, all my 
love till then, 

Hetty 


199 




Chapter XIII 
Letter to Lord Byron 

PART IV 


A. ship again; this time the Dettifoss. 

Grierson can buy it; all the sea I mean, 
AH this Atlantic that we’ve now to cross 


Heading for England’s pleasant pastures green. 
Pro tern I’ve done with the Icelandic scene; 

I watch the hills receding in the distance, 

I hear the thudding of an engine’s pistons. 


I hope I’m better, wiser for the trip: 

I’ve had the benefit of northern breezes. 

The open road and good companionship, 

I’ve seen some very pretty little pieces; 

And though the luck was almost all MacNeice’s, 
I’ve spent some jolly evenings playing rummy — 

No one can talk at Bridge, unless it’s D umm y. 

I’ve learnt to ride, at least to ride a pony. 

Taken a lot of healthy exercise, 

On barren mountains and in valleys stony. 

I’ve tasted a hot spring (a taste was wise), 

And foods a man remembers till he dies. 

AH things considered, I consider Iceland, 

Apart from Reylgavik, a very nice land. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 

The part can stand as symbol for the whole: 

So ruminating in these last few weeks, 

I see the map of all my youth unroll. 

The mental mountains and the psychic creeks. 
The towns of which the master never speaks, 
The various parishes and what they voted for, 

The colonies, their size, and what they’re noted for. 

A child may ask when our strange epoch passes. 
During a history lesson, ‘Please, sir, what’s 
An intellectual of the middle classes? 

Is he a maker of ceramic pots 
Or does he choose his king by drawing lots?’ 
What follows now may set him on the rail, 

A plain, perhaps a cautionary, tale. 

My passport says I’m five feet and eleven, 

With hazel eyes and fair (it’s tow-like) hair, 
That I was born in York in 1907, 

With no distinctive markings anywhere. 

, Which isn’t quite correct. Conspicuous there 
On my right cheek appears a large brown mole, 

I think I don’t disUke it on the whole. 

My name occurs in several of the sagas, 

Is common over Iceland still. Down under 
Where Das Volk order sausages and lagers 
I ought to be the prize, the livmg wonder, 

The really pure from any Rassenschander, 

In fact I am the great big white barbarian. 

The Nordic type, the too too truly Aryan. 

In games which mark for beauty out of twenty, 
I’m doing well if my friends give me eight 
(When played historically you still score plenty); 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


My head looks like an egg upon a plate; 

My nose is not too bad, but isn’t straight; 

I have no proper eyebrows, and my eyes 
Are far too close together to look nice. 

Beauty, we’re told, is but a painted show. 

But still the public really likes that best; 

Beauty of soul should be enough, I know. 

The golden ingot in the plain deal chest. 

But mine’s a rattle in a flannel vest; 

I can’t think what my It had on It’s mind, 

To give me flat feet and a big behind. 

Apart from lyrics and poetic dramma, 

Which Ervine seems more angered by than sad at. 
While Sparrow fails to understand their grammar, 

I have some harmless hobbies; I’m not bad at 
Reading the slower movements, and may add that 
Out of my hours of strumming most of them 
Pass playing hymn tunes out of A. and M. 

Read character from taste. Who seem to me 
The great? I know that one as well as you. 

‘Why, Darmty, Gouty, Shopkeeper, the three 

Supreme Old Masters.’ You must ask me who 
Have written just as I’d have Uked to do. 

I stop to listen and the names I hear 
Are those of Firbank, Potter, Carroll, Lear. 

Then phantasies? My anima, poor thing. 

Must take the dreams my Alter Ego sends her, 
And he’s a marvellous diver, not a king. 

But when I’m sickening for influenza, 

I play concertos with my own cadenza; 

And as the fever rises find it properer 
To sing the love duet from a grand opera. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 

My vices? I’ve no wish to go to prison, 

I am no Grouper, I will never share 
With any prig who thinks he’d like to listen. 

At answering letters I am well aware 
I’m very slack; I ought to take more care 
Over my clothes; my promise always fails 
To smoke much less, and not to bite my nails. 

I hate pompositas and all authority; 

Its air of injured rightness also sends 
Me shuddering from the cultured smug minority. 
'^Perpetual revolution’, left-wing friends 
TeU me, ‘in counter-revolution ends. 

Your fate will be to linger on outcast 
A selfish pink old Liberal to the last.’ 

‘No, I am that I am, and those that level 
At my abuses reckon up their own. 

I may be straight though they, themselves, are bevel.’ 

So Shakespeare s aid, but Shakespeare must have known. 
I daren’t say that except when I’m alone. 

Must hear in silence till I turn my toes up, 

‘It’s such a pity Wystan never grows up.’ 

So I sit down this fine September morning 
To tell my story, I’ve another reason. 

I’ve lately had a confidential warning 

That Isherwood is publishing next season 
A hook about us all. I call that treason. 

I must be quick if I’m to get my oar in 
Before his revelations bring the law in. 

My father’s forbears were all Midland yeomen 
Till royalties from coal mines did them good; 

I think they must have been phlegmatic slowmen. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


My mother’s ancestors had Norman blood. 

From Somerset I’ve always understood; 

My grandfathers on either side agree 
In being clergymen and C. of E. 

Father and Mother each was one of seven, 

Though one died young and one was not all there; 
Their fathers both went suddenly to Heaven 

While they were still quite small and left them here 
To work on earth with little cash to spare; 

A nurse, a rising medico, at Bart’s 

Both felt the pangs of Cupid’s naughty darts. 

My home then was professional and *high’. 

No gentler father ever lived, I’ll lay 
All Lombard Street against a shepherd’s pie. 

We inntate our loves: well, neighbours say 
I grow more like my mother every day. 

I don’t like business men. I know a Prot 
Will never really kneel, but only squat. 

In pleasures of the mind they both delighted; 

The library in the study was enough 
To make a better boy than me short-sighted; 

Our old cook Ada surely knew her stuff; 

My elder brothers did not treat me rough; 

We lived at Solihull, a village then; 

Those at the gasworks were my favourite men. 

My earliest recollection to stay put 

Is of a white stone doorstep and a spot 
Of pus where father lanced the terrier’s foot; 

Next, stuffing shag into the coffee pot 
Which nearly killed my mother, but did not; 

Both psycho-analyst and Christian minister, 

Will think these incidents extremely sinister. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 

With northern myths my little brain was laden. 

With deeds of Thor and Loki and such scenes; 

My favourite tale was Andersen’s Ice Maiden; 

But better far than any kings or queens 
I liked to see and know about machines: 

And from my sixth until my sixteenth year 
I thought myself a mining engineer. 

The mine I always pictured was for lead, 

Though copper mines might, faute de mieux, be soxmd. 
To-day I like a weight upon my bed; 

I always travel by the Underground; 

For concentration I have always found 
A small room best, the curtains drawn, the light on; 

Then I can work from nine till tea-time, right on. 

I must admit that I was most precocious 

(Precocious children rarely grow up good). 

My aunts and uncles thought me qtdte atrocious 
For using words more adult than I should; 

, My first remark at school did all it could 
To shake a matron’s monumental poise; 

T like to see the various types of boys.’ 

The Great War had begrm: but masters’ scrutiny 
And fists of big boys were the war to us; 

It was as harmless as the Indian Mutmy, 

A beating from the Head was dangerous. 

But once when half the form put down Bellus. 

We were accused of that most deadly sin. 

Wanting the Kaiser and the Hims to win. 

The way in which we really were affected 

Was having such a varied lot to teach us. 

The best were fightings as the King expected, 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


The remnant either elderly grey creatures, 

Or characters with most pecrdiar features. 

Many were raggahle, a few were waxy. 

One had to leave abruptly in a taxi. 

Surnames I must not write — O Reginald, 

You at least taught us that which fadeth not. 

Our earliest visions of the great wide world; 

The beer and biscuits that your favourites got. 
Your tales revealing you a first>class shot. 

Your riding breeks, your drama called The Waves, 

A few of us will carry to our graves. 

‘Half a Irmatic, hedf a knave’. No doubt 
A holy terror to the staff at tea; 

A good headmaster must have soon found out 
Your moral character was all at sea; 

I question if you’d got a pass degree: 

But little children bless your kind that knocks 
Away the edifying stumbling blocks. 

How can I thank you? For it only shows 

(Let me ride just this once my hobby-horse), 
There’re things a good headmaster never knows. 

There must be sober schoolmasters, of course. 

But what a prep school really puts across 
Is knowledge of the world we’ll soon be lost in: 

To-day it’s more Uke Dickens than Jane Austen. 

I hate the modem trick, to teU the truth. 

Of straightening out the kinks in the young mind. 
Our passion for the tender plant of youth. 

Our hatred for all weeds of any kind. 

Slogans are bad: the best that I can find 
Is this: ‘Let each child have that’s in our care 
As much neiurosis as the child can bear.’ 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


In tins respect, at least, my bad old Adam is 
Pigheadedly against tbe general trend; 

And has no use for all these new academies 
Where readers of the better weeklies send 
The child they probably did not intend. 

To paint a lampshade, marry, or keep pigeons. 

Or make a study of the world religions. 

Goddess of bossy underlings. Normality! 

What murders are committed in thy name! 
Totalitarian is thy state Reality, 

Reeking of antiseptics and the shame 
Of faces that all look and feel the same. 

Thy Muse is one unknown to classic histories. 

The topping figure of the hockey mistress. 

From thy dread Empire not a soul’s exempted: 

More than the nursemaids pushing prams in parks, 
By thee the intellectuals are tempted, 

O, to commit the treason of the clerks. 

Bewitched by thee to literary sharks. 

But I must leave thee to thy oflGlce stool, 

I must get on now to my public school. 

Men had stopped throwing stones at one another. 
Butter and Father had come back again; 

Gone were the holidays we spent with Mother 

In furnished rooms on mountain, moor, and fen; 
And gone those summer Sunday evenings, when 
Along the seafronts fled a curious noise, 

‘Eternal Father’, sung by three young boys. 

Nation spoke Peace, or said she did, with nation; 

The sexes tried their best to look the same; 

Morals lost value during the inflation, 

The great Victorians kindly took the blame; 

207 




Letter to Lord Byron 


Visions of Dada to the Post-War came. 

Sitting in cafes, nostrils stuflFed with bread, 

Above the recent and the straight-laced dead. 

IVe said my say on public schools elsewhere: 

Romantic friendship, prefects, bullying, 

I shall not deal with, c’est une autre afifaire. 

Those who expect them, will get no such thing. 

It is the strictly relevant I sing. 

Why should they grumble? They’ve the Greek Anthology, 
And aU the spicier bits of Anthropology. 

We all grow up the same way, more or less; 

Life is not known to give away her presents; 

She only swops. The unself-consciousness 

That children share with animals and peasants 
Sinks in the ^stiirm und drang’ of Adolescence. 

Like other boys I lost my taste for sweets. 

Discovered simsets, passion, God, and Keats. 

I shall recall a single incident 

No more. I spoke of mining engineering 
As the career on which my mind was bent. 

But for some time my fancies had been veering; 
Mirages of the future kept appearing; 

Crazes had come and gone in short, sharp gales. 

For motor-bikes, photography, and whales. 

But indecision broke off with a clean-cut end 
One afternoon in March at half-past three 
When w a l kin g in a ploughed field with a friend; 

Klickiag a little stone, he turned to me 
And said, ‘Tell me, do you write poetry?’ 

I never had, and said so, but I knew 
That very moment what I wished to do. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


Without a bridge passage this leads me straight 
Into the theme marked ‘Oxford’ on my score 
From pages twenty-five to twenty-eight. 

Aesthetic trills I’d never heard before 

Rose from the striags, shrill poses from the cor; 

The woodwind chattered like a pre-war Russian, 

‘Art’ boomed the brass, and ‘Life’ thumped the percussion. 

A raw provincial, my good taste was tardy. 

And Edward Thomas I as yet preferred; 

I was still listening to Thomas Hardy 
Putting divinity about a bird; 

But Eliot spoke the still unspoken word; 

For gasworks and dried tubers I forsook 
The clock at Grantchester, the English rook. 

All youth’s intolerant certainty was mine as 
I faced life in a double-breasted suit; 

I bought and praised but did not read Aquinas, 

At the Criterion’s verdict I was mute, 

Though Arnold’s I was ready to refute; 

And through the quads dogmatic words rang clear, 

‘Good poetry is classic and austere.’ 

So much for Art. Of course Life had its passions too; 

The student’s flesh hke his imagination 
Makes facts fit theories and has fashions too. 

We were the tail, a sort of poor relation 
To that debauched, eccentric generation 
That grew up with their fathers at the War, 

And made new glosses on the noun Amor. 

Three years passed quickly while the Isis went 
Down to the sea for better or for worse; 

Then to Berlin, not Carthage, I was sent 

With money firom my parents in my purse. 

And ceased to see the world in terms of verse. 

209 


o 



Letter to Lord Byron 

I met a chap called Layard and he fed 
New doctrines into my receptive head. 

Part came from Lane, and part from D. H. Lawrence; 

Gide, though I didn’t know it then, gave part. 
They taught me to express my deep abhorrence 
If I caught anyone preferring Art 
To Life and Love and being Pure-in-Heart. 

I lived with crooks but seldom was molested; 

The Pure-in-Heart can never be arrested. 

He’s gay; no bludgeonings of chance can spoil it. 

The Pure-in-Heart loves all men on a par. 

And has no trouble with his private toilet; 

The Pure-in-Heart is never ill; catarrh 
Would be the yellow streak, the brush of tar; 
Determined to be loving and forgiving, 

I came back home to try and earn my living. 

The only thing you never turned your hand to 
Was teaching English in a boarding school. 
To-day it’s a profession that seems grand to 
Those whose alternative’s an office stool; 

For budding authors it’s become the rule. 

To many an unknown genius postmen bring 
Typed notices from Habbitarse and String. 

The Head’s M.A., a bishop is a patron. 

The assistant staff is highly qualified; 

Health is the care of an experienced matron. 

The arts are taught by ladies from outside; 

The food is wholesome and the grounds are wide; 
The aim is training chmacter and poise. 

With special coaching for the backward boys. 

I found the pay good and had time to spend it. 

Though others may not have the good luck I did: 

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Letter to Lord Byron 

For you I’d hesitate to recommend it; 

Several have told me that they can’t abide it. 
StiU, if one tends to get a bit one-sided. 

It’s pleasant as it’s easy to secure 
The hero worship of the immature. 

More, it’s a job, and jobs to-day are rare: 

All the ideals in the world won’t feed us 
Although they give our crimes a certain air. 

So barons of the press who know their readers 
Employ to write their more appalling leaders, 
Instead of Satan’s horned and hideous minions. 
Clever young men of liberal opinions. 

Which brings me up to nineteen-thirty-five; 

Six months of film work is another story 
I can’t teU now. But, here I am, alive 

Knowing the true source of that sense of glory 
That still surrounds the England of the Tory, 
Come only to the rather tame conclusion 
That no msin by himself has life’s solution. 

llmow — ^the fact is really not unnerving — 

That what is done is done, that no past dies. 
That what we see depends on who’s observing, 
And what we think on our activities. 

That envy warps the virgin as she dries 
But ‘Post coitum, homo tristis’ means 
The lover must go carefully with the greens. 

The boat has brought me to the landing-stage. 

Up the long estuary of mud and sedges; 

The line I travel has the English gauge; 

The engine’s shadow vaults the little hedges; 
And summer’s done. I sign the usual pledges 
To be a better poet, better man; 

I’U really do it this time if I can. 

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Letter to Lord Byron 


I’m home again, and goodness knows to what. 
To read the papers and to earn my bread; 
I’m home to Europe where I may be shot; 

‘I’m home again’, as William Morris said, 
‘And nobody I really care for’s dead.’ 

I’ve got a round of visits now to pay. 

So I must finish this another day, 

END OF PART IV 


212 



Chapter XIV 

Letter to Kristian Andremson, Esq, 


]\Iy Dear Kristian Andreirsson, 

In Reylqavik I made you a promise that I would send 
you my impressions of yomr country, and now I am back 
at home I must do my best to fulfil it, a small return 
indeed for all your unwearied hospitality to us, and for 
your wife’s delicious pancakes. Though I question whether 
the reactions of the tourist are of much value; without 
employment in the country he visits, his knowledge of its 
economic and social relations is confined to the study of 
official statistics and the gossip of tea-tables; ignorant of 
the language his judgment of character and culture is 
limited to the superficial; and the length of his visit, in 
my case only three months, precludes him from any real 
intimacy with his material. At the best he only observes 
what the inhabitants know already; at the worst he is 
guilty of glib generalisations based on inadequate and 
often incorrect data. Moreover, whatever his position in his 
own country, the social status of a tourist in a foreign land 
is always that of a rentier — as far as his hosts are con- 
cerned he is a person of independent means — and he will 
see them with a rentier’s eye: the price of a meal or the 
civility of a porter will strike him more forcibly than a rise 
in the number of cancer cases or the corruption of the 
judicial machine. Finally the remoteness of Iceland, 

213 



Letter to Kristian Andreirsson, Esq. 

coupled with its literary and political history, make it a 
country which, if visited at all, is visited by people with 
strong, and usually romantic, preconceptions. Few English 
people take an interest in Iceland, but in those few the 
interest is passionate. My father, for example, is such a 
one, and some of the most vivid recollections of my child- 
hood are hearing him read to me Icelandic folk-tales and 
sagas, and I know more about Northern mythology than 
Greek. Archbishop van Kroil, who visited Iceland in 1772, 
makes an observation which all tourists would do well to 
remember — 

‘You must not’, he says, ‘in this place apply to me the 
story which Helvetius tells of a clergyman and a fine lady 
who together observed the spots in the moon, which the 
former took for church steeples and the latter for a pair 
of happy lovers. I know that we frequently imagine to 
have really found what we most think of, or most wish 
for.’ He might have further added, that when we fail to 
find it we often rush to the opposite extreme of disappoint- 
ment. 

, I do not intend to expatiate upon the natural beauties 
of your island: to you they need no advertisement and for 
the tourist there are many guide books; the Great Geysir 
will draw its crowds without any help from me. Besides, 
there is an English poem with the sentiments of which I 
entirely sympathise. 

Biography 

Is better than Geography, 

Geography’s about maps. 

Biography’s about chaps. 

As I am going to be ficank about what I disliked, I must say 
at once that I enjoyed my visit enormously; that, except 
on one minor occasion, I met with tmvarying kindness and 
hospitality; and that as far as the people themselves are 

214 






Letter to Kristian Andreirsson^ Esq. 


concerned, I can think of none among whom I should 
prefer to be exiled. 

Physique and Clothes 

I find the physical standard of the Icelanders, both in 
health and looks, high compared with most European 
countries, but not as high perhaps as the Norwegians. On 
the whole the men seem better looking than the women. It 
is all the more pity, therefore, that the average taste in 
clothes should be so poor. I know that Englishwomen are 
the worst dressed in the world, but that is no excuse for 
Iceland. I have seldom seen worse clothes, for both sexes, 
than I saw in the shops in Reykjavik; flashier and more 
discordant in colour. This is, I know partly a question of 
money, but not entirely. The Icelandic women could be 
twice as well dressed for the same expenditure. 

Character 

This is a silly t hin g to write about. I can’t believe that 
the character of one nation is much different from that of 
another, or does not have the same variations. In any case 
the tomdst sees nothing important. Like others before me 
I admired nearly all the farmers I met enormously; I saw 
none of that boorishness and yokel stupidity that one sees 
in the country in England. On the other hand I felt that 
many of the people in the towns were demoralised by 
living in them. This is natmal. Towns take a lot of getting 
used to, and one must be much richer, if one is to live 
decently in them, than one need be in the country. The 
two obvious faults I noticed were impunctuality, which is 
trivial, and drunkenness, which is silly but not to be 
wondered at when it is almost impossible to get a decent 
drink in the country. The beer is filthy, wine is prohibitive 
in price, and there is nothing left but whisky, which is not 
a good drink. 


215 




Letter to Kristian Andreirsaon, Esq. 

A Norwegian fish merchant told me that he did not like 
doing business with Icelanders, but personally I fotmd 
them more honest than most people I have met. I am told 
that politics are very corrupt — ^natural perhaps in a 

country where everyone knows everyone else personally 

but I have no means of verifying or contradicting this. 

As regards their emotional life, I found the Icelander, 
certainly as compared with the Englishman, very direct, 
normal, and free from complexes, but whether that is a 
good or a bad thing, I cannot decide. 

Manners 

The Icelander seems to me to have beautiful natural 
manners, but rather imperfect artificial ones. By artificial 
ones, I mean those which do not depend on an instinctive 
feeling for other people, but have to be learnt for a com- 
plicated social life. Mackenzie, writing in 1810, said: ‘The 
unrestrained evacuation of saliva seems to be a fashion 
all over Iceland.’ It seems to be so still. 

Wealth and Class Distinctions 

It is an observation frequently made by bourgeois 
visitors that in Iceland there are no rich and no poor. At 
first sight this seems to be true. There are no mansions 
those in Mayfair, and no hovels like those in the East End. 
Wages and the general standard of living are high in com- 
parison with other cotmtries; and there is less apparent 
class distinction than in any other capitalist country. But 
when one remembers that Iceland has an area larger than 
Ireland, a population smaller than Brighton, and some of 
the richest fishing grounds in the world, one is not con- 
vinced that the wages could not be higher and the 
differences less. I saw plenty of people whose standard of 
living I should not like to have to share, and a few whose 
wealth made them arrogant, ostentatious, and vulgar. In 

216 



Letter to Kristian Andreirsson^ Esq. 

England there are certain traditional ways of living and 
spending for rich people which at least give them a 
certain grace. In Iceland there are none. 

Education and Culture 

The home of some of the finest prose in the world, with 
a widespread knowledge of verse and its technique, and 
100% literacy, Iceland has every reason to be proud of 
herself, and if I make certain criticisms, it is not because 
I do not appreciate their achievements, but because from 
a country which has done so much one expects still more. 
In education my general impression was that the general 
standard was high; and I think the custora of students 
working on farms in the summer should provide the best 
possible balance of academic and manual education — 
indeed under these unusual circumstances I should like to 
see the academic education more classical — Greek and 
manual labour seem to me the best kind of education. But 
the higher grades, the sixth form and University teaching 
do not seem to me so good. I know this is almost entirely 
a' question of money. The only suggestion I can make is 
that there should be a special school for bright children, 
picked from all over the island by a scholarship examina- 
tion. 

As regards general culture, it is high, but not as high as 
some accounts would lead one to believe. While in the 
country I heard a kitchen-maid give an excellent criticism 
of a medieval saga, in the towns on the other hand, par- 
ticularly Reykjavik, there were obviously many people 
who had lost their specifically Icelandic culture, and had 
gained no other. In general, while literature seems fairly 
widely appreciated, there is almost no architecture, no 
drama, and little knowledge of painting or music. 

I know that this is inevitable. I know that the day of a 
self-contained national culture is over, that Iceland is far 

217 



Letter to Kristian Andreirsson, Esq. 

from Europe, that the first influences of Europe are always 
the worst ones, and that the development of a truly Euro- 
pean culture is slow and expensive. But I am convinced 
that the cultural future of Iceland depends on the extent 
to which she can absorb the best of the Eiuropean tradi- 
tions, and make them her own. 

The only suggestions I can make have probably been 
thought of before, hut I give them for what they may be 
worth. 

Owing to cmrency problems, it is difl&cult for Icelanders 
to buy books. Apart from the local town fibraries, there- 
fore, there should he one first-class lending library of the 
best European books, particularly contemporary, serving 
the whole of the island. 

Obviously Iceland cannot afford to buy pictures, but to- 
day reproductions are so good that they could with great 
profit he placed in galleries and schools. Music is more 
difficult. The Broadcasting Station does much with 
gramophone records, but could I think do more. I don’t 
like the Scandinavian passion for male choirs, which cuts 
one off from the vast bulk of choral music. 

Lastly, a small country like Iceland should he an ideal 
place for a really live drama — as in Ireland. This depends 
solely on writers — of whom there are plenty — and a few 
enthusiastic amateurs in a small room. To start by build- 
ing an enormous state theatre which you can’t afford to 
finish, is starting at the wrong end. 

General 

Most of the hooks about Iceland which I have read 
speak as if it were a nation of farmers. In point of fact, the 
majority live in towns, and pretty grim a town like 
Siglufjordur is too. To me this is the most important 
fact about Iceland. The present time is a critical one. I 
see what was once a society and a cidture of independent 

218 





Letter to Kristian Andreirsson, Esq. 


peasant proprietors, becoming, inevitably, urbanised and 
in danger of becoming — ^not so inevitably — ^proletaria- 
nised for the benefit of a few, who on account of their small 
number and geographical isolation, can never build up a 
capitalist culture of their own. 

A town and a town life which are worth having are 
expensive, and in a small and not conspicuously wealthy 
country like Iceland I am inclined to believe that they can 
only be realised by anyone, let alone the masses, in a 
socialist community. 

Well, then, here are my impressions. I have tried to 
express them as simply and directly as I could, and can 
only hope that you wOl be less conscious of their super- 
ficiality than I am. 

When next you come to England I shall have my 
revenge by making you do the same for me. 

With kindest regards to your wife and yourself. 

Yours sincerely, 

W. H. A. 


219 




Chapter XV 

Letter to William Coldstream, Esq, 


N ow the three ride from Hraensnef to Reykholt ’wrhere they 
stayed two nights. Thence they went to Reykj avik and took 
ship to Isafjordur. Joachim was the vice-consul, a man 
well spoken of. He fotmd them a motor-boat to take them 
to Melgraseyri in Isafjordardjup. The name of the farmer 
was Olafur. He had six foster children. Louis fell sick and 
remained in his bed but Auden and Michael rode to Or- 
muK where they were very hospitably entertained. After 
three days they all returned to Isafjordur and dwelt at the 
Salvation Army Hostel there. They did not go out of doors 
much but spent the day drinking brandy and playing 
cards. People said they had not behaved very well. Now it 
is the end of summer and they sail oversea to England. In 
the summer Louis and Auden published a book. 

This, Bill, is a little donnish experiment in objective 
narrative. 


‘But Landscape,’ cries the Literary Supplement, 

‘You must have Landscape’: 

And the historian of the Human Consciousness; 

‘You can’t put the clock back. Not since Montaigne’; 
And the reviewer taking the Russians out of a hamper; 

‘It’s simply not Tolstoi’: 

220 


Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 

And tte professional noveKst in a flash; 

‘Too easy. No dialogue.’ 
And the common reader yawning; 

‘I want more love life.’ 


But Landscape’s so dull 

if you haven’t Lawrence’s wonderful wooziness. 
My private reflections are only what you’d expect from an 
artist and a gentleman. 

The poet’s eye is not one from which nothing is hid 
Nor the straightforward diary of a nice English schoolboy 
really much use. 

And love life — I’m sorry, dear reader — ^is something 
I always soft pedal. 

But Horrebow came here and wrote a chapter on snakes 
The chapter has only one sentence. 
Hooker came here and made a list of the plants 
Henderson came here with Bibles 
And looked at the Geysir and thought 

‘The Lord could stop that if he wanted’ 
Lord Dufferin got tight with the Governor and spoke in 
dog-latin 

And Morris opened his letters from England 

And wondered at people’s calmness. 
They can get them all from a public library 
This letter’s for you. 

A reminder of Soho Square and that winter in horrible 
London 

When we sat in the back passage pretending to work 
While the camera boys told dirty stories 
And George capped them all with his one of the major in 
India 

Who went to a ball with dysentery 
told it in action 
221 




Letter to William Coldstream j Esq. 

Till we sneaked ont for coffee and discussed our colleagues 
And were suspected, quite rightly, of being disloyal. 
Especially you, whose tongue is the most malicious I know. 

But after we’d tom them to pieces, we turned our atten- 
tion to Art 

Upstairs in the Comer House, in the hall with the phallic 
pillars 

And before the band had finished a pot pourri from 
Wagner 

We’d scrapped Significant Form, and voted for Subject, 
Hence really this letter. 

I’m bringing a problem. 

Call it as Henry James might have done in a preface 
The Presentation of the Given Subject 
The problem of every writer of travels; 

For Life and his publisher hand him his theme on a plate: 
‘You went to such and such places with so-and-so 
And such and such things occurred. 

Now do what you can.’ 

But I can’t. 

The substantial facts are as I have stated above 
No bandits, no comic passport olB&cials 
No hairbreadth escapes, the only test of endurance 
A sixteen mile scramble m gumboots to look at dead 
whales 

No monuments and only a little literary history 
Gish the Soursop was killed on the other side of the moun- 
t£iins 

No views? 0 dozens of course. But I sympathise with the 
sailors 

^Instead of a girl or two in a taxi 

We were compelled to look at the Black Sea^ and the 
Black Sea 

IsnH all if$ cracked up to 6e.’ 

222 



Letter to William Coldstream^ Esq. 

An artist you said, if I remember you rightly, 

An artist you said, in the waiting room at Euston 
Looking towards that dictator’s dream of a staircase 
An artist you said, is both perceiver and teller, the spy and 
the gossip 

Something between the slavey in Daumier’s caricature 
The one called Nadadada 
And the wife of a minor canon. 

Very well then, let’s start with perceiving 

Let me pretend that I’m the impersonal eye of the camera 

Sent out by God to shoot on location 

And we’ll look at the rushes together. 

Face of an Icelandic Professor 

Like a child’s self expression in plasticine 

A child from the bottom form. 

Then a lot out of focus. 

Now a pan round a typical sitting-room 
Bowl of postcards on table — ^Harmonium with Brahm’s 
Sapphic Ode 

Pi-picture — ^little girl crosses broken ravine bridge pro- 
tected by angel. 

Cut to saddling ponies — close up of farmer’s hands at a 
girth strap 

Dissolve to long shot of Reykholt school 

Corbusier goes all Northern. 

Close up of Gynaecologist Angler offering me brandy 
In the next war he said 

There’d be one anaesthetist to at least four tables. 
Mid-shot of fox farm 

Black foxes in coops — ^white tips to their tails 
The rest N. G. I’m afraid. 

Now there is a whaling station during the lunch hour 
The saw is for cutting up jaw-bones 
223 




Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 


The whole place was slippery with filth — ^with guts and 
decaying flesh — 

like an artist’s palette — 

We were tired as you see and in shocking tempers. 
Patreksfjordur by moonlight, shot as the boat left. 

Night effects, though I say it, pretty O.K. 

Our favourite occupation — ^the North Pole Caf6 
I’ve got some shots later of hands of rummy — 

Louis’s scandalous luck caused a lot of ill feeling. 
Now going up leaf jordardjup — the motorboat cost 40 
kronur. 

The hills are a curious shape — ^like vaulting-horses in a 
gymnasium 

The light was rotten. 

What on earth is all this ? 0 yes, a dog fight at one of the 
farms 

Too confused to show much. 

0 and this is Louis drawing the Joker as usual. 

And here’s a shot for the Chief— epic, the Drifters tradition 
The end of a visit, the motor-boat’s out of the screen on the 
left 

It was blowing a hurricane. 

Harbour at Isafjordur — ^late summer evening 
‘Tatty’, Basil would call it I think, but I rather like it. 

Well. That’s the lot. 

As you see, no crisis, no continuity. 

Only heroic cutting could save it 
Perhaps MacNaughten might do it 
Or Legge. 

But I’ve cut a few stills out, in case they’d amuse you. 

So much for perceiving. Now telling. That’s easy. 

Louis read George EUot in bed 

And Michael and I climbed the cliff behind Bxaensnef 

224 





Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 

And I was so frightened, my dear. 

And we all rowed on the lake and giggled becanse the boat 
leaked 

And the farmer was angry when we whipped his horses 
And Louis had a dream — ^unrepeatable but he repeated it — 
And the lady at table had diabetes, poor thing 
And Louis dreamt of a bedroom with four glass walls 
And I was upset because they told me I didn^t look 
innocent 

(I liked it really of course) 

And the whaling station wouldn’t offer us any coffee 
And Michael didn’t speak for three hours after that 
And the first motor-boat we hired turned back because of 
the weather 

‘^A hot spot’ he said but we and the vice consul didn’t 
believe him 

And that cost an extra ten kronur. 

And it was after ten when we really got there and could 
discover a landing 

And we walked up to the farm in the dark 
Over a new mown meadow, the dogs running in and out of 
the lamplight 

And I woke in the night to hear Louis vomiting 
Something like a ship siren 

And I played ‘0 Isis and Osiris’ on the heirmonium next 
day 

And we read the short stories of Somerset Maugham 
aloud to each other 

And the best one was called His Excellency. 

And I said to Michael ‘All power corrupts’ and he was very 
angry about it. 

And he ate thirty-two cakes in an afternoon 
And the soup they gave us the last day tasted of hair oil 
And we had to wrap the salt fish in an envelope not to hurt 
their feelings 


p 


225 




Letter to William Coldstream^ Esq. 

And we stayed at the Salvation Army — ^notices: no cards 
allowed, 

So we played in our bedroom 
And we drank Spanish brandy out of our tooth mugs, 
trying to like it 

And feeling like schoolboys, hiding our sins from the maid. 
And the film that night was in English, and the lovers 
were very vehement 

But the loud speaker was badly adjusted and they 
squawked like hens 

And Louis stood on the quay muttering Greek in his beard 
Like a character out of the Cantos — 
dAAoc Kal obs eO^Aco Kai ^^A5o|Jiai fipccra ix&vra, 
oiKaSs t’ sAOsiievai Kai iSsafiai vootiijiov fjpap. 

But that wasn’t the only thing he said 
Back at Hraensnef after a heavy silence 
He suddenly spoke. ‘God made the mice,’ he said 
‘And the mice made the Scheiss’ 

And again he said ‘The dark lady of the Bonnets’ 

And Michael said ‘You like nothing 
But smoking, drinking coffee, and writing’ 

And he wrote on my postcard to Christopher ‘We have our 
moods.’ 

That’s all except the orchestral background 
The news from Europe interwoven with our behaving 
The pleasant voice of the wireless announcer, like a con- 
sultant surgeon 

‘Your case is hopeless. I give you six months.’ 

And the statements of famous economists; 

Like cook coming in and saying triumphantly 
‘Rover’s taken the joint, ma’am.’ 

That’s all the externals, and they’re not my pigeon 
While the purely subjective feelings, 

The heart-felt exultations and the short despairs 

226 



Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 

Require a musician. Bach, say, or Schubert. 

But here is my poem, nevertheless, the fruit of that fort- 
night 

And one too of Louis’s, for comparative reading. 

The novelist has one way of stating experience. 

The film director another 

These are our versions — each man to his medium, 

who can ever gaze his fill’, 

Farmer and fisherman say, 

^On native shore and local hill. 

Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand? 

Fathers, grandfathers stood upon this land. 

And here the pilgrims from our loins shall stand.’ 

So farmer and fisherman say 
In their fortimate heyday: 

But Death’s soft answer drifts across 
Empty catch or harvest loss 
Or an imlucky May. 

The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it 
Not to be born is the best for man 
The end of toil is a bailiff^ s order 

Throw down the mattock and dance ivhile you can. 

^0 life’s too short for friends who share’, 

Travellers think in their hearts, 

‘The city’s common bed, the air. 

The mountain bivouac and the bathing beach. 
Where incidents draw every day from each 
Memorable gesture and witty speech.’ 

So travellers think in their hearts, 

Till maHce or circumstance parts 
Them from their constant humour: 

And shyly Death’s coercive rumour 
In the silence starts. 

227 



Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 

A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus 
Not to be horn is the best for man 
An a^ive partner in something disgraceful 

Change your partner, dance while you can. 

‘0 stretch your hands across the sea,’ 

The impassioned lover cries, 

‘Stretch them towards your harm and me. 

Our grass is green, and sensual our brief bed. 

The stream sings at its foot, and at its head 
The mild and vegetarian beasts are fed.’ 

So the impassioned lover cries 
Till his storm of pleasure dies: 

From the bedpost and the rocks 
Death’s enticing echo mocks. 

And his voice replies. 

The greater the love, the more false to its object 
Not to be born is the best for man 
After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle 

Break the embraces, dance while you can. 

‘I see the guilty world forgiven,’ 

Dreamer and drunkard sing, 

‘The ladders let down out of heaven; 

The laurel springing from the martyrs’ blood; 

The children skipping where the weepers stood; 
The lovers natural, and the beasts all good.’ 

So dreamer and drunkard sing 
Till day their sobriety bring; 

Parrotwise with death’s reply 
From whelping fear and nesting lie, 

Woods and their echoes ring. 

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews 
Not to be bom is the best for man 
228 



Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 

The second best is a formal order 

The dancers pattern^ dance while you can. 

Dance^ dance, for the figure is easy 

The tune is catching and will not stop 
Dance till the stars come down with the rafters 
Dance, dance, dance till you drop. 

W. H. A. 


Iceland 

No shields now 
Cross the knoll, 

The hills are duU 
With leaden shale, 
Whose arms could squeeze 
The breath from time 
And the climb is long 
From cairn to cairn. 

Houses are few 
But decorous 
Inaruiued land 
Of sphagnum moss; 
Corrugated iron 
Farms inherit 
The spirit and phrase 
Of ancient sagas 

Men have forgotten 
Anger and ambush. 

To make ends meet 
Their only business: 
The lover riding 
In the lonely dale 
Hears the plover’s 
Single pipe 
229 




Letter to William Coldstream, Esq. 


And feels perhaps 
But undefined 
The drift of death 
In the sombre wind 
Deflating the trim 
Balloon of lust 
In a grey storm 
Of dust and grit. 

So we who have come 
As trippers North 
Have minds no match 
For this land’s girth; 
The glacier’s licking 
Tongues deride 
Our pride of life. 

Our flashy songs. 

But the people themselves 
Who live here 
Ignore the brooding 
Fear, the sphinx; 

And the radio 

With tags of tune 
Defies their pillared 
Basalt crags. 

Whose ancestors 
Thought that at last 
The end would come 
To a blast of horns 
And gods would face 
The worst in fight. 
Vanish in the night 
The last, the first 
230 



Letter to William Coldstream^ Esq. 


Nigtt which began 
Without device 
In ice and rocks, 

No shade or shape; 

Grass and blood. 

The strife of life. 

Were an interlude 

Which soon must pass 

And all go back 
Relapse to rock 
Under the shawl 
Of the ice-caps. 

The cape which night 
Will spread to cover 
The world when the living 
Flags are furled. 

L. M. 


231 




Chapter XVI 
Letter to Lord Byron 

PART V 

Autumn is here. The beech leaves strew the lawn; 

The power stations take up heavier loads; 

The massive lorries shake from dusk till dawn 
The houses on the residential roads; 

The shops are full of coming winter modes. 

Dances have started at the Baths next door 
Stray scraps of MS strew my bedroom floor. 

I read that there’s a boomlet on in Birmingham, 

But what I hear is not so reassuring; 

Rumours of War, the B.B.C. confirming ’em. 

The prospects for the future aren’t alluring; 

No one believes Prosperity enduring, 

Not even Wykehamists, whose golden mean 
Maintains the All Souls’ Parish Magazine. 

The crack between employees and employers 
Is obvious already as the nose on 
John Gielgud’s face; the keels of new destroyers 

Get laid down somehow though all credit’s frozen; 
The Pope’s turned protestant at last and chosen, 
Thinking it safer in the temporal circs, 

The Italian faith against the Russian works. 

232 



Letter to Lord Byron 

England, my England — ^you have been my tutrix — 
The Mater, on occasions, of the free, 

Or, if you’d rather. Dura Virum Nutrix, 

Whatever happens I am bom of Thee; 

And Englishmen, all foreigners agree. 

Taking them by and large, and as a nation, 

AU suffer from an Oedipus fixation. 

With all thy faults, of course we love thee still; 

We’d better for we have to live with you. 

From Rhondda Valley or from Bredon HjII, 

From Rotherhithe, or Regent Street, or Kew 
We look you up and down and whistle ‘Phew! 

, Mother looks odd to-day dressed up in peers. 

Slums, aspidistras, shooting-sticks, and queers.’ 

Cheer up! There’re several singing birds that sing. 

There’s six feet six of Spender for a start; 

Eliot has really stretched his eagle’s wing. 

And Yeats has helped himself to Parnell’s heart; 
, This book has samples of MacNeice’s art; 

There’s Wyndham Lewis fuming out of sight. 

That lonely old volcano of the Right. 

I’m marking time because I cannot guess 

The proper place to which to send this letter, 
c/o Saint Peter or The Infernal Press ? 

I’ll try the Press. World-ciJture is its debtor; 

It has a list that Faber’s couldn’t better. 

For Heaven gets all the lookers for her pains, 

But HeU, I think, gets nearly all the brains. 

The congregation up there in the former 

Are those whose early upbringing was right, 
Who never suffered from a childish trauma; 

233 




Letter to Lord Byron 


As babies they were Truby King’s delight; 

They’re happy, lovely, but not overbright. 

For no one thinks unless a complex makes him. 

Or till financial ruin overtakes him. 

Complex or Poverty; in short The Trap. 

Some set to work to tmderstand the spring; 

Others sham dead, pretend to take a nap; 

‘It is a motor-boat,’ the madmen sing; 

The artist’s action is the queerest thing: 

He seems to like it, coiddn’t do without it. 

And only wants to tell us all about it. 

While Rome is burning or he’s out of sorts 

‘Causons, causous, mon bon,’ he’s apt to say, 
‘What does it matter while I have these thoughts ?’ 

Or so I’ve heard, but Freud’s not quite O.K. 

No aiiist works a twenty-four hour day. 

In bed, asleep or dead, it’s hard to tell 
The highbrow from I’homme moyen sensuel. 

*Es neiget die weisen zu schonem sich.’ 

Your lordship’s brow that never wore a hat 
Should thank your lordship’s foot that did the trick. 
Your mother in a temper cried, ‘Lame Brat!’ 
Posterity should thank her much for that. 

Had she been sweet she surely wotdd have taken 
Juan away and saved your moral bacon. 

The match of Hell and Heaven was a nice 

Idea of Blake’s, but won’t take place, alas. 

You can choose either, but you can’t choose twice; 

You can’t, at least in this world, change your class; 
Neither is alpha plus though both will pass: 

And don’t imagine you can write like Dante, 

Dive like yom nephew, crochet like your auntie. 

234 



Letter to Lord Byron 

The Great Utopia, free of all complexes. 

The Withered State is, at the moment, such 
A dream as that of being both the sexes* 

I like Wolf’s Goethe-lieder very much. 

But doubt if Ganymede* s appeal will touch — 

That marvellous cry with its ascending phrases — 
Capitalism in its later phases. 

Are Poets saved? Well, let’s suppose they are. 

And take a peep. I don’t see any books. 
Shakespeare is lounging grandly at the bar, 

Milton is dozing, judging by his looks, 

Shelley is playing poker with two crooks, 

Blake’s adding pince-nez to an ad. for players, 

Chaucer is buried in the latest Sayers. 

Lord Alfred rags with Arthur on the floor, 

Housman, all scholarship forgot at last. 

Sips up the stolen waters through a straw, 

Browning’s complaining that Keats bowls too fast, 
And you have been composing as they passed 
" Aclerihewon Wordsworth and his tie, 

A rather dirty limerick on Pye. 

I hope this reaches you in your abode, 

This letter that’s already far too long, 

Just like the Prelude or the Great North Road; 

But here I end my conversational song. 

I hope you don’t think mail from strangers wrong. 
As to its length, I tell myself you’ll need it. 

You’ve all eternity in which to read it. 

END OF PART V 


235 



Chapter XVII 

Auden and MacNeice: Their Last 
Will and Testament 


We, Wystan Hugh Auden and Louis MacNeice, 
Brought up to speak and write the English tongue . 
Being led in the eighteenth year of the Western 
Peace 

To the duck-shaped mountainous island with the 
Danish King, 

At Melgraseyri in Isaf jordardjup 
Under the eaves of a glacier, considering 

The autumns, personal and public, which already 
creep 

Through city-crowded Europe, and those in want 
Who soon must look up at the winter sky and weep. 

Do set down this, our will and testament: 

Believing man responsible for what he does. 

Sole author of his terror and his content. 

The duty his to learn, to make his choice; 

On each the guilt of failure, and in each the power 
To shape, create and move, love and rejoice. 

Poor prospects now have any who would insure 
Against the blight of crops — ^blood in the furrows — 
And who knows which of our legacies will endinre? 
236 



Last Will and Testament 


First to OTir ancestors who lie in barrows 
Or xuider nameless cairns on heathery hills 
Or where the seal-swim crashes the island-narrows 

Or in Jacobean tomb, whose scrolls and skulls 
Carry off death with an elegant inscription. 

The Latin phrasing which beguiles and dulls 

The bitter regrets at the loved body’s corruption 
Or those who merely share the prayer that is 
muttered 

For many sunk together in war’s eruption. 

To all, clay-bound or chalk-bound, stiff or scattered. 
We leave the values of their periods. 

The things which seemed to them the things that 
mattered, 

Pride in family and in substantial goods, 

Comfort, ambitioii, honour and elegance. 

The jealous eye upon wives and private woods, 

The hand alert for vengeance, the brow which once 
Contracted was unforgiving, proud of extremes 
Not bearing easily the deserter or the dunce. 

L. And to my own in particular whose rooms 

Were whitewashed, small, soothed with the smoke of 
peat. 

Looking out on the Atlantic’s gleams and glooms. 

Of whom some lie among brambles high remote 

Above the yellow falls of Ballysodare 

Whose hands were hard with handling cart and boat 

I leave the credit for that which may endure 
Within myself of peasant vitality and 
Of the peasant’s sense of humour and I am sure 
237 




Last Will and Testament 

That those forefathers clamped in the boggy ground 
Shotdd have my thanks for any Ariadne’s thread 
Of instinct following which I too have foimd 

My way through the forking paths of briars and mud. 
My thanks I leave them therefore double and next 
I leave my father half my pride of blood 

And also my admiration who has fixed 
Hia pulpit out of the reach of party slogans 
And all the sordid challenges and the mixed 

Motives of those who bring their drums and dragons 

To silence moderation and free speech 

Bawling from armoured cars and carnival wagons; , 

And to my stepmother I leave her rich 
Placid delight in detailed living who adds 
Hour to hour as if it were stitch to stitch 

Calm in the circle of her household gods; 

Item, to my sister Elizabeth what she lacks — 

The courage to gamble on the doubtful odds 

And in the end a retreat among Irish lakes 
And farmyard smells and the prism of the Irish air; 
Item, to Dan my son whenever he wakes 

To the consciousness of what his limits are 
I leave the ingenuity to transmute 
His limits into roads and travel far; 

Lastly to Mary living in a remote 

Country I leave whatever she wotdd remember 

Of hers and mine before she took that boat. 

Such memories not being necessarily lumber 
And may no chance, unless she wills, delete them 
And may her hours be gold and without number. 

238 



Last Will and Testament 


W. I leave my parents first, seeing that without them 
There’s no fame or affection I could win at all 
^ Whatever fame my poems may collect about them. 

The Royal College of Physicians in Pall Mall 
And a chair in Preventive Medicine, I leave my 
father. 

And the Bewcastle Cross I bequeath to him as well. 

The Church of Saint Aidan at Smallheath to my 
mother 

Where she may pray for this poor world and me. 
And a paying farm to Bernard, my eldest brother. 

Item, to John, my second, my library 
And may my lifetime’s luck fall on his head 
That he may walk on Everest before he die. 

Next Edward Upward and Christopher Isherwood 
I here appoint my joint executors 
To judge my work if it be bad or good. 

My manuscripts and letters, aU to be theirs 
AH copyrights and royalties therefrom 
I leave them as their property in equal shares. 

W. L. We leave to Stanley Baldwin, our beloved P.M., 
The false front of Lincoln Cathedral, and a school 
Of Empire poets. As for his Cabinet, to them 

We leave their National character and strength of 
wiH. 

To Winston ChurchiH Ballinrobe’s dry harbour 
And Randolph, un bel pezzo, in a codicil. 

To Sir Maurice Hankey for his secretarial labour 
The Vicar of Bray’s discretion; and to Lord Lloyd 
We leave a flag-day and a cavalry sabre. 

239 




Last Will and Testament 


To Vickers the Gran. Chaco (for agents must be paid). 
The Balkan Conscience and the sleepless night we 
think 

The inevitable diseases of their dangerous trade. 

The stones of Kaldidalur to Hambro’s Bank 
And the soapworks in the County of Cheshire we 
gladly grant 

To Ramsay MacDonald who’s so lucid and frank. 

To the Church of England Austen Leigh, The Quant- 
um Theory, Stanford in B flat and the Chief Scout’s 
horn 

A curate’s bicycle, and a portable second hand font. 

A Year’s sxrbscription to the Gospel Magazine 
With which is incorporated the Protestant Deacon, 
And a Gentle Shepherd hat but not too clean 

We leave the Nonconformists, as a Christmas token, 
And all the lives by Franco gently stopped 
We leave to Rome, and for the doctrines she has 
spoken 

The cock that crew before St. Peter wept. 

And to each tribal chief or priestly quack 
We leave the treachery of his sect or sept. 

Item, to the Bishop of London a hockey-stick 
And an Old Marlburian blazer; item to Frank, 

The Groupers’ Pope, we leave his personal pick 

Of a hundred converts from Debrett — ^we think 
Most of them, he will find, have quite a song 
Of things to confess from limericks to drink; 

Item, we leave to that old diehard Inge 
A little Christian joy; item, to Sir 
Robert Baden-Powell a piece of string; 

240 



Last Will and Testament 


Item, to the Primate, pillar of savoir faire, 

An exotic entourage; item, to Pat 
McCormick a constant audience on the air. 

Item, to those who spend their lives in the wet 
Lost six counties of the Emerald Isle 
We leave our goloshes and a shrimping net; 

Item, to Lord Craigavon that old bull 
With a horse’s face we leave an Orange drum 
For after-dinner airs, when he feels full; 

Item, to De Valera we leave the dim 
Celtic twilight of the higher economics 
And a new surname among the seraphim; 

Item, to all those Irish whose d3m.amics 
Lead them in circles we leave a cloistered life, 

A fellowship say in botany or ceramics. 

Item, talking of fellowships, we leave 
To that great institution of dreaming spires 
With all its lost reputations up its sleeve 

A kinder clime for academic careers 

Than Thames and Cowley afford, say Medicine Hat 

Where petrol fumes will spare the imeasy ears 

Of undergraduates growing among the wheat; 

And we leave the proctors some powerful opera 
glasses 

And half a dozen bulldogs with Lovelock’s feet; 

Item, to Convocation a bust of Moses, 

A lambskin copy of Excerpta de Statutis 
And all the howlers of our Latin proses; 

241 


Q 




Last Will and Testament 


Item, to the Oxford O.T.C. otxt puttees 

And to the Oxford Appointments Board some gay- 

jobs in Bulawayo or Calaguttis; 

Item, to Sir Farquhar Buzzard a raspberry; 

Item, to the College of All Souls the game 
Of pleonasmus and tautology; 

Item, to the Fellows of King’s beside the Cam 
A bunch of pansies and white violets; 

And to all deans and tutors money for jam; 

Item, to Wittgenstein who writes such hits 
As the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 
We leave aU readers who can spare the wits; 

Item, to I. A. Richards who like a mouse 
Nibbles linguistics with the cerebral tooth 
We leave a quiet evening in a boarding-house 

Where he may study the facts of birth and death 
In their inexplicable oddity 

And put a shilling in the slot for brains and breath. 

And Julian Huxley we leave an ant, a bee, 

An axolotl and Aldous; item, to Bert- 
rand Russell we leave belief in God (D.V.). 

Item, we leave a bottle of invalid port 
To Lady Astor; item, the Parthenon 
On the Calton Hill to Basil de Selincourt. 

Item, we leave the phases of the moon 
To Mr. Yeats to rock his bardic sleep; 

And to Dr. C-yiil Norwood a new spittoon; 

And Tubby Clayton can have some gingerpop; 

And General O’DuflFy can take the Harp That Once 
Started and somehow was never able to stop. 

242 



Last Will and Testament 


We leave a mens sana qui mal y pense 
To the Public Schools of England, plus Ian Hay 
That the sons of gents may have La Plus Bonne 
Chance. 

L. To Marlborough College I leave a lavatory 

With chromium gadgets and the Parthenon frieze; 
W. And Holt three broken promises from me. 

W. L. Item, to the B.B.C. as a surprise 

The Great Geysir; the Surrealists shall have 
J. A. Smith as an Objet Trouv€ in disguise. 

To the Royal Academy we leave the 7 and 5 
And to the Geological Museum in Jermyn Street 
All metaphysicians and logicians stiH alive. 

Item, the Imperial War Museum shall get 
Professor Lindemann; and South K. a drove — 

In the Science Block the Jeans and Eddington set; 

And to the Natural History Wing we give 

The reviewers on the Observer, the whole damn bunch. 

And Beachcomber and the beasts that will not live. 

The Dock, in all respect, we leave the Bench 
And Shell Mex House we leave to H. G. Wells 
To accommodate his spawn of Uebermensch. 

Item, to those expert with clubs eind halls 
And double bores and huntin’ and fishin’ tackles 
Some kippered tigers for their study walls; 

To the Fogerty School some tropes of the Reverend 
TickeU’s, 

And the statue of Peter Pan we leave by halves — 
The upper to A. A. Milne, the lower to Beverley 
Nichols. 


243 




Last Will and Testament 


Item, to Lady Oxford we leave some curves 
And a first edition of Dodo; and to that great man 
J. L. Garvin the civilisation he deserves. 

Item, we leave our old friend Rupert Doone 
Something dynamic and his own theatre 
And a setting of his Unconscious on the bassoon: 

Item, to Daan Hubrecht a Martello tower, 

To Hugh M'Diarmid a gallon of Red Biddy, 

And the bones of Shakespeare to Sir Archie Flower. 

Item, in winter when the ways are muddy 
We leave our gumboots tried on Iceland rocks 
To the M‘Gillicuddy of M‘Gillicuddy, 

To keep his feet dry climbing in the Reeks; 

Item, we leave a portable camping oven 
To Norman Douglas, last of the Ancient Greeks; 

And to John Fothergill a Comer House in Heaven. 
Item, we leave a tube of Pond’s Cold Cream 
To the debutantes of 1937. 

Item, to Maurice Bowra we leave a dome 
Of many-coloured glass; item, to Father 
Knox a crossword puzzle or a palindrome. 

Item, to Compton Mackenzie a sprig of heather, 

To James Douglas a knife that will not cut. 

And to Roy Campbell a sleeping-svit of leather. 

Item, we leave the mentality of the pit 
To James Agate and to Ivor Brown, 

And to Edith Sitwell we leave her Obiit. 

Item, we leave a little simple fun 
To allbeUettrists and the staff of Punch; 

And a faith period to Naomi Mitchison. 

244 



Last Will and Testament 


And to Sir Oswald (please forgive the stench 
Which taints our parchment from that purulent 
name) 

We leave a rather unpleasant word in French, 

Item, we leave to that poor soul A.M. 

Ludovici the Venus of Willendorf 

(a taste we neither condone nor yet condemn.) 

Item, to the King’s Proctor and his staff 
We leave a skeleton key and Die Untergang 
Des Abendlandes — a book to make them laugh. 

Item, a vestry-meeting to Douglas Byng, 

The marriage of universals to Geoffrey Mure, 

And Sir James Barrie to Sir Truby King. 

And to that Society whose premier law 
Is the Preservation of Ancient Monuments 
We leave Sir Bindon Blood and Bernard Shaw. 

Item, to Dr. Stopes we leave an ounce 
Of cocoa-butter and some transcendental love 
And may she mix them in the right amoimts. 

And to the most mischievous woman now alive 

We leave a lorry-load of moral mud 

And may her Stone Age voodoo never thrive. 

And to Evelyn Underhill a diviner’s rod; 

The Albert Memorial to Osbert Lancaster; 

And Messrs. Nervo and Knox to the Eisteddfodd. 

And to Ladislas Peri we leave a grand career 
As sculptor in concrete, God knows what, or brick; 
And Bryan Guinness shall have some Burton beer. 
245 




Last Will and Testament 


Item, an antidote for camera shock 
And a low-brow ciixiosity in objects to all 
Painters and sculptors in metal, wood, or rock. 

To modem architects who can design so well 
Kitchens and bathrooms, a gentle reminder that 
Material pangs are not the only pains of Hell. 

To all the technique that composers now have got 
We add a feeling for the nature of the human voice 
And the love of a tune which sometimes they have 
not. 

To our fellow writers, to the whole literary race 
The Interest itself in all its circumstances 
That each may see his vision face to face. 

To our two distinguished colleagues in confidence, 
To Stephen Spender and Cecfi. Day Lewis, we assign 
Our minor talents to assist in the defence 

Of the European Tradition and to carry on 
The Human heritage. [W.] And the Slade School 
I choose 

For William Coldstream to leave his mark upon. 

W. L. To the Group Theatre that has performed our plays 
We leave the proceeds of the Entertainment Tax 
To pay for sets, and actors on week-days. 

W. To the Post OflSice Film Unit, a film on Sex 

And to Grierson, its director, something really big 
To sell, I offer with my thanks and my respects. 

For my friend Benjamin Britten, composer, 1 beg 
That fortune send him soon a passionate affair. 

W. L. To Barbara Hepworth, sculptress, we leave Long 
Meg 


246 



Last Will and Testament 


And her nine daughters. A pure form, very pure. 

We leave Clive Bell, and to Ben Nicolson a post 
At Murphy’s where he’ll soon make good, we’re 
sure. 

May the critic I. M. Parsons feel at last 
A creative impulse, and may the Dictatorship 
Of the Holy Spirit suppress the classic past 

Of Herbert Read. To Peter Fleming a cap 

For exploration. We find him very jolly 

But think mock modesty does not improve a chap. 

We leave the Martyr’s Stake at AbergwiUy 
To Wyndham Lewis with a box of soldiers (blonde) 
Regretting one so bright should be so silly. 

We hope one honest conviction may at last be 
foimd 

For Alexander Korda and the Balcon Boys 
And the Stavisky Scandal in picture and sound 

We leave to Alfred Hitchcock with sincerest praise 
Of Sabotage, To Berthold Viertel just the script 
For which he’s waited all his passionate days. 

We wish the cottage at Piccadilly Circus kept 
For a certain novelist, to write thereon 
The spiritual cries at which he’s so adept. 

To Lord Berners, wit, to keep his memory green 
The follies of fifty coimties upon one condition 
That he ■write the history of the Kin g and Queen. 

L. And I to all my friends would leave a ration 

Of bread and wdt against the days which slant 
Upon us black with nihilistic passion. 

247 




Last Will and Testament 


Item I leave my old friend Anthony Blunt 
A copy of Marx and £1000 a year 
And the picture of Love Locked Out by Holman 
Hunt. 

Item to Archie Burton I leave my car 
Which took the comat at a crossroads in King’s 
Heath 

And bringing me twice in jeopardy at the bar 

AH but left me a convict or a wraith; 

Item I leave a large viridian pot 
Of preserved ginger to my dear Ann Faith 

Shepard who shall also have my Bokhara mat 
And Graham Shepard shall have my two cider mugs, 
My thirty rose-trees and, if he likes, my hat. 

Item I leave my copies of Our Dogs 
To Mrs. Norton who lives at Selly Hill: 

And to Victor Rothschild the spermatozoa of frogs. 

Item my golf clubs to Ernest Ludwig Stahl 
Which after a little treatment with emery paper 
Should serve him well around the veldt and kraal; 

And Vera Stahl his sister I leave an upper 
Seat at Twickenham for the Irish match 
To be followed by a very r6cherch6 supper. 

And Mrs. Dodds I leave a champion bitch 

And a champion dog and a litter of champion pups 

AH to be born and weaned without a hitch: 

And Professor Dodds I leave the wind which whips 
The Dublin Moimtains and the Knockmealdowns 
And may he forgive my acadexnic slips. 

248 



Last Will and Testament 

Item to Betsy my borzoi a dish of bones 

And 7/6 for her licence for next year 

And may her name be scratched on the Abbey stones: 

Item to Littleton Powys more and more 
I leave my admiration and all the choice 
Flowers and birds that grace our English shore. 

Item to Wilfired Blunt a pretty piece 
Of the best rococo and a crimson shirt 
Appliqued all over with fleurs-de-lys: 

Item to J. R. Hilton a Work of Art 
And a dream of the infinitesimal calculus 
Bolstered on apples in an apple-cart. 

Item to Mr. and Mrs. McCance a mouse 
That will keep their cats in one perpetual smile: 

Item to Moore Crosthwaite a concrete house 

Built by Gropius: item to George MoreU 
Perpetual luck at the dogs: item to Tom 
Robinson a blue check homer that flies like hell 

And makes his fortune: item a quiet room 
To Denis Binyon to practise his HeUenistic 
Greek in readiness for the Day of Doom: 

W. L. Item to dear John Waterhouse a gymnastic 
Exercise before breakfast every day 
(A better cure for the figure than wearing elastic) 

And a grand piano imder a flowering tree 

To sate his versatile and virile taste 

From the Hammerklavier to the Isle of Capri. 

Item to Gordon Herrickx a titan’s wrist 
Strong to the evening from commercial stone 
And may his glyptic fantasy persist: 

249 




Last Will and Testament 


Item, to Robert Medley some ceUophane 
And a pack of jokers; item, a box of talc 
To Geoffrey Tandy in case be shaves again. 

Item to Humphrey Thackrah a flowered silk 
Dressing-gown and a bottle of Numero Cinq: 

Item to Isiah Berlin a saucer of milk: 

L. Item to Leila Sargent Florence a drink 
After hours and a salad of chicory: 

Item to my cousin Oonagh a coat of mink: 

Item to the Brothers Melville the artist’s eye 
And may their beliefs not hamper them for ever: 
Item to Guy Morgan and also Guy 

Burgess and Ben Bonas and Hector Maciver 
And Robert Dunmett and Norman Cameron 
I leave a keg of whiskey, the sweet deceiver: 

Item I leave to my old friend Adrian 
Green Armitage who now is a stockbroker, 

A jolly life as an English gentleman: 

Item to Helen Cooke I leave an acre 

Of Cornish moor to run her spaniels in 

On perfect terms with the local butcher and baker: 

Item I leave a sun which will always shine 
To Elspeth Duxbury and a ginger cat 
Which will always be washed and groomed by half- 
past nine: 

Item to Ivan Rowe a gaUon pot 
Of Stephens’ blue-black ink: item to Walter 
Allen I leave the tale of a tiny tot 
250 



Last Will and Testament 


On the Midland Regional and from the welter 
Of hand-to-month journalism and graft 
I hope his brains afford him sufficient shelter: 

Item to Edith Marcuse I leave a deft 
Hand at designing and an adequate job. 

And to Coral Brown camellias on her right and left. 

Item to Mrs. Hancock a koala cub: 

Item to Cicely Russell and R. D. Smith 
The joint ownership of a Shropshire pub: 

Item to Bernard and Nora Spencer a path 
To a life of colour, ample and debonair: 

Item to old John Bowie a Turkish bath: 

Item to Diana Sanger an open fire 
A wire fox terrier and a magnolia tree; 

And to Ruthven Todd the works of Burns entire. 

Item to Curigwen Lewis the Broadway sky 
Blazing her name in lights; item to Jack 
Chase my best regards and a case of rye: 

Item to C. B. Canning a private joke: 

Item a clerihew to Christopher Holme 
And may he not be always completely broke: 

Item to David Gretton a lovely time 
Arranging broadcasts from the Parish Hall: 

Item to May Lawrence a gin and Hme: 

Item to Francis Curtis, once Capel, 

I leave my wonder at his Oxford Past 
Which to my knowledge was without parallel: 

W. L. Item to John Betjeman (the most 

Remarkable man of his time in any position) 

We leave a Leander tie and Pugin’s ghost 

251 




Last Will and Testament 

Attd a box of crackers and St. Pancras Station 
And the Church of Ireland Gazette and our 
confidence 

That he will be master of every situation. 

A Chinese goose to Harold Acton we advance. 

W. Item my passport to Heioz Nedermeyer 

And to John Andrews, to rub with after a dance, 

As many L.M.S. towels as he may require. 

W. L. Item to E. M. Forster a bright new notion 

For a novel with a death roll, 0 dear, even higher. 

And to St. John Ervine, ornament of the nation. 
His Ulster accent and les neiges d’antan 
And a little, if possible, accurate information; 

And some new games with time to J. W. Dunne, 

To Andy Corry a six-foot belemnite, 

And to Noel Coward a place in the setting sun; 

To Dylan Thomas a leek on a gold plate; 

Item we leave to that great mind Charles Madge 
Some curious happenings to correlate; 

Item to the New Statesman a constant grudge 
And a constant smile saying ‘We told you so’, 

And to John Sparrow a quarter of a pound of 
fudge. 

Item, the falling birthrate we leave to Roy 
Hanod and Maynard Keynes for pulling together; 
To Brian Howard a watch and the painted buoy 

That dances at the harbour mouth (which is rather 
The po4sie de departs but sooner or later 
We all Kke beiug trippers); item to Father 
252 



Last Will and Testament 


D’Arcy, that dialectical disputer, 

We leave St. Thomas Aquinas and his paeans — 

W. To Neville GoghiU, fellow of Exeter, my tutor, 

I leave Das Lebendigste with which to form 
alliance 

And to Professor Dawkins who knows the Modem 
Greeks 

I leave the string figure called the Fighting Lions. 

W. L. To the barrister, Richard Best, to wear on walks 

A speckled boater; to Geoffrey Grigson of Neuo Verse 
A strop for his sharp tongue before he talks. 

. A terrible double entendre in metre or in prose 
To WiUiam Empson; and we leave his own 
Post mortem to any doctor who thinks he knows 

W . The Inmost Truth. And the New Peace he has won 

To Gerald Heard — and to the teacher Maurice Feild 
A brilliant pupil as reward for all he’s dpne. 

To Geoffrey Hoyland, whose virtues are manifold 
An equal love for every kind of nature, 

W . L. And to John Davenport a permanent job to hold. 

W. For Peggy Garland someone real in every feature. 

To Tom her husband, someone to help; and a call 
To go a dangerous mission for a fellow creature 

To Nancy Coldstream. I hope John Layard will 
Find quick ones always to put him on his feet 
To OKve Mangeot a good lodger andi, till 

The revolution cure her corns, a set 
Of comfortable shoes: to Sylvain, her younger son. 
My suits to wear when it is really wet. 

253 



Last Will and Testament 


My Morris-Cowley to carry chickens in 
To Peter Roger, with a very fine large goat. 

And a Healer’s Prize for Robert Moody to win. 

W. L. We leave with our best compliments the Isle of Wight 
To Robert Graves and Laura Riding, because 
An Italian island is no good place to write. 

We leave to the Inland Revenue Commissioners 
The Channel Islands: for these charming men 
Will find there many an undeserving purse.' 

W. I leave the wheel at Laxey, Isle of Man, 

To Sean Day-Lewis, and the actual island leave 
To Mrs Yates of Brooklands, to rest there when she 
can. 

W. L. The County of Surrey as it stands we give 
To Sapper; and all the roadhouses in Herts 
To Hilaire Belloc that he may drink and live. 

To Quinton Hogg the wardenship of the Cinque 
Ports, 

And the holy double well of Saint Clethcr to all 
Who suffer guilty feelings and irrational thoughts. 

To Sebastian Sprott we offer Mortimer’s Hole 
W . To snub-nosed Gabriel Carritt the Beetle and Wedge 

AndT.F.C. may keep the letter that he stole. 

W. L. To Mayfair, Crowland Abbey’s river-lackmg bridge 
As symbol of its life. To Grossman, Councillor, 

We leave High Oflice, and a wind-swept northern 
ridge. 

We leave to Cowper Powys Glastonbury Tor 
The White Horses to the Horse Guards, and the 
vale of Evenlode 

To all those shell-shocked in the last Great War. 

254 



Last Will and Testament 


For Pacifists to keep the brutal world outside 
We’ve OflEa’s Dyke, and the caves at Castleton for 
parents 

Who dream of air-raids and want a place to hide. 

Item, we leave to Professor Sargant Florence 
Dartington HaU and all that is therein. 

And Dartmoor Prison to Sir Herbert Pethick 
Lawrence. 

W. To Rex Warner, birdman, I leave Wicken Fen 

And Hillborough Dovecote. To Sydney Newman 
give 

The Coronation Organ to play now and then. 

W. L. The twin towers of the Crystal Palace we would 
leave 

To Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and Boston Stump 
To Ernest Jones, round which they each may weave 

Their special phantasies. To every tramp 
We leave a harvest bam, a private drive 
And a fenced deer park where he may make his 
camp. 

Snowdonia to Michael Roberts with our love. 

To Constant Lambert the Three Choirs Festival, 
And the Vale of Eden with the Pennine scarp above 

To the children of the London East End. Sweet 
Boars Hill 

To Poets Laureate, past, present, and to come. 

As for the parts of our bodies in this will 

We allot them here as follows: to the Home 
For Lost Dogs and Cats our Kvers and lights. 

And our behinds to the Birmingham Hippodrome. 

255 




Last Will and Testament 


And our four eyes which cannot see for nuts 
We leave to aU big-game hunters and to all 
Apprentices to murder at the butts; 

Our feet to hikers when their own feet fail; 

To aU escapists our islands of Langahans; 

And to Imperial Chemicals a pail 

Of what in us would otherwise join the drains; 

The Watch Committee can have our noses and 
The British Association can have our brains; 

Item our ears, apt for the slightest soimd, 

We leave those Statesmen who happen to be de- 
barred 

From hearing how the wheels of State run round; 

To Major Yogi-Brown our navels we award 
And our pudenda we leave or rather fling 
Our biographers and The Thames Conservancy 
Board; 

Lastly our hearts, whether they be right or wrong. 
We leave neither to scientists nor doctors 
But to those to whom they properly belong. 

Our grit we beg to leave all sanitary inspectors, 

Our faith, our hope, our chzuity we leave The 
League 

To help it to do something in the future to protect us. 

Our cheerfulness to each s<piare-headed peg 
That lives in a round hole, and our charm at its best 
To those who cannot dig and are ashamed to heg. 

Our powers of parrot memory we offer to assist 
Examinees. Our hmnour, all we think is funny, 

To Dr. Leavis and almost every psycho-analyst. 

256 



Last Will and Testament 

To the Bishop of Bradford our discretion, if any; 
And our carnivorous appetites we give away 
To Professor Gilbert Murray. Item, our many 

Faults to all parents that their families may see 
No one expects them really to be good as gold. 

ALfter due thought, we leave our lust in Chancery, 

Our obstinacy to the untamed and wild. 

W . I leave to my ex-pupils whether bright or dull 

Especially to every homesick problem child 

All the good times I Ve had since I left school. 

And hope that Erika, my wife, may have her wish 
, To see the just end of Hitler and his imjust rule. 

W. L. To all the dictators who look so bold and fresh 

The m i dni ght hours, the soft wind from the sweep- 
ing wing 

Of madness, and the intolerable tightening of the 
mesh 

Of history. We leave their marvellous native tongue 
To Englishmen, and for our intelligent island pray 
That to her virtuous beauties by all poets sxmg 

She add at last an honest foreign policy. 

For her oppressed, injured, insulted, and weak 
The logic and the passion proper for victory. 

We leave our age the quite considerable spark 
Of private love and goodness which never leaves 
An age, however awful, in the utter dark. 

We leave the unconceived and unborn lives 
A closer approximation to real happiness 
Than has been reached by us, our neighbomrs or 
their wives. 


257 


Last Will and Testament 


To those who by ofSice or from inclmatiou use 
Authority, a knowledge of their own misdeed 
And all the hate that coercion must produce. 

For the lost who from self-hatred cannot hide, 

Such temporary refuge or engines of escape 
From pain as Chance and Mercy can provide 

And to the good who know how wide the gulf, how 
deep 

Between Ideal and Real, who being good have felt 
The final temptation to withdraw, sit down and 
weep. 

We pray the power to take upon themselves the guilt 
Of human action, though still as ready to confess 
The imperfection of what can and must be built. 

The wish and power to act, forgive, and bless. 


258 



Epilogue 

For W. H, Auden 


IN^ ow the winter nights begin 
Lonely comfort walls me in; 

So before the memory slip 
I review our Iceland trip — 

Not for me romantic nor 
Idyll on a mythic shore 
But a fancy turn, you know. 
Sandwiched in a graver show. 

Down in Europe Seville feU, 
Nations germinating hell. 

The Olympic games were run — 
Spots upon the Aryan sim. 

And the don in me set forth 
How the landscape of the north 
Had educed the saga style 
Plodding forward nule by mile. 

And the don in you replied 
That the North begins inside, 

Our ascetic guts require 
Breathers from the Latin fire. 

So although no ghost was scotched 
We were happy while we watched 
259 



Epilogue 


Ravens from their walls of shale 
Cruise around the rotting whale, 

Watched the sulphur basins boil. 
Loops of steam uncoil and coil. 
While the valley fades away 
To a sketch of Judgment Day. 

So we rode and joked and smoked 
With no miracles evoked. 

With no levitations won 
In the thin unreal sun; 

I n that island never found 
Visions blossom from the ground. 
No conversions like St. Paul, 

No great happenings at all. 

Holidays should be like this. 

Free from over-emphasis. 

Time for soul to stretch and spit 
Before the world comes back on it. 

Before the chimneys row on row 
Sneer in smoke, ‘We told you so’ 
And the fog-bound sirens call 
Ruin to the long sea-waU. 

Rows of books around me stand. 
Fence me roimd on either hand; 
Through that forest of dead words 
I would hunt the living birds — 

Great black birds that fly alone 
Slowly through a land of stone. 
And the gulls who weave a free 
Quilt of rhythm on the sea. 

260 


Epilogue 


Here in Hampstead I sit late 
Nights which no one shares and wait 
F or the ’phone to ring or for 
Unknown angels at the door; 

Better were the northern skies 
Than this desert in disguise — 

Rugs and cushions and the long 
Mirror which repeats the song. 

F or the Htany of doubt 
From these walls comes breathing out 
Till the room becomes a pit 
Humming with the fear of it 

With the fear of loneliness 
And uncommunicableness; 

All the wires are cut, my friends 
Live beyond the severed ends. 

So I write these lines for you 
Who have felt the death-wish too. 

But your lust for life prevails — 
Drinking coffee, telling tales. 

Our prerogatives as men 
Will be cancelled who knows when; 
Still I drink your health before 
The gun-butt raps upon the door. 

L. M. 


261 




Appendix 


Total Area: c. 39,760 square noiles 

Total Population; c. 115,000 
National debt: 41,938,000 kronur 

National income: 14,312,000 krontu: 
Principal creditor: Hambro’s Bank 



1 . Rdation ofhabitMe to uninhabitable land 
262 




2. Kinds ofhahitabh land 


263 








Appendix 



4 . Distribution of population by occupation 


265 




in. iofvas or yilla^es over- SCO inhahibiTiis 


Appendix 



5 . Graph showing urhanisation 


266 





Appendix 



267 


6 . Graph of exports and imports 



Appendix 



268 


7 , Foreign trade